Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Demand jump, tight supply leading to record crab prices

“Insatiable” is the word being used to describe the demand for snow crab as the world’s largest fishery got underway on April 5 in Eastern Canada. And while more snow crab will be available this year, buyers expect a tight supply. Global seafood supplier Tradex said snow crab and other “premium crab” saw huge growth at retail in 2020 and demand is even greater this year. Seafood like crab and lobster are now perceived as being affordable to buy and cook at home compared to the cost in restaurants. Tradex spokesperson Tasha Cadence said that shift has spawned a new pandemic-inspired word by market experts. “It’s ‘premium-ization,’ or customers recognizing a higher value for a product and paying a higher price,” she said, referring to comments by industry veteran Les Hodges in his April Crab Update. The combined Canadian catch for snow crab through September, most of which is sold to the U.S., tops 157 million pounds, 11 million pounds higher than 2020. The Canadian crab comprises 62 percent of the U.S. market share, according to Urner-Barry, which has provided information for the food industry since 1858. Prices for snow crab to Canadian fishermen were reported by Undercover News at a record $4.56 (U.S.), adding that they could top $7 per pound. Russia is the second-largest snow crab producer with a harvest of nearly 98 million pounds in its year round fishery this year. Much of the product goes to markets in China, Korea, and the U.S., where imports in 2020 were up by 80 percent to 42 million pounds valued at nearly $341 million. “And with the Russian quota increasing almost 35 percent in 2021, there is anticipation that even more snow crab from Russia will come into the U.S.,” according to Urner-Barry in its spring report. Alaska is the world’s third-largest snow crab producer with a catch this year of 45 million pounds for the fishery that began last Oct. 15 and ends in mid-May. The crab, which weigh 1.2 pounds on average, are sold primarily in frozen leg clusters to markets in the U.S., Japan and China for reprocessing. Advance prices to fishermen for Alaska snow crab were reported at $3 per pound but lengthy sales negotiations are likely to push that higher. Alaska’s snow crab fleet of about 60 boats received a record average advance price last year of $3.15 per pound for a 34 million-pound harvest valued at nearly $106 million. If all the snow crab catches come in as planned, it will add up to more than 300 million pounds for global markets this year, a 13 million-pound increase over 2020. And while Alaska is deservedly famous for its crab – meaning snow, king crab, Tanners and Dungeness – it’s a small player providing just 6 percent of global supply. Herring hauls The roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound ended on April 9 after two weeks of daily fishing. A fleet of about 20 seiners took an estimated 32 million pounds, less than half of the allowable harvest. Herring fishing at Kodiak began on April 1, two weeks earlier than usual, due to an earlier spawn across the island’s five fishing districts. By last week, 13 boats had taken less than half of the 16 million-pound harvest limit, the largest ever. The fish were looking good although the fleet was standing down for a few days to let more of the roe ripen, said James Jackson, area manager for the Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. He added that up to nine tenders also are on the ground and five processors are buying herring. Word on the docks is that the herring are fetching $300 per ton for fishermen, or about 6 cents per pound. The earlier start at Kodiak means that more boats could head to Togiak at Bristol Bay when that herring fishery gets underway, usually in early May. It will depend on how many processors show up to buy. Togiak is Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, this year with a whopping harvest guideline of more than 85 million pounds, the highest since 1993. Last year only 3 boats and one buyer showed up there for the fishery that ran from May 4 to 16 when the boats dropped out. In 2020 the total Alaska roe herring harvest of 17.3 million pounds was valued at just less than $8 million. Water watchers A state judge recommended last week that the state Department of Environmental Conservation was wrong to issue a Clean Water Act certificate to Donlin Mine, the world’s largest gold mine planned upstream from villages along the Kuskokwim River. The state initially issued a “certificate of reasonable assurance” to Donlin in August 2018, saying it believed Donlin’s operations would comply with state water standards, reported KYUK in Bethel. The certificate is a precursor to one of the biggest state permits Donlin needs before it can begin constructing and operating its gold mine, which requires more than 100 state permits. “The Orutsararmiut Native Council challenged the certificate, contending the state cannot have “reasonable assurance” the mine won’t violate water standards. Specifically, the tribe said the state can’t guarantee Donlin will maintain Alaska’s environmental standards for mercury levels, water temperature and fish habitat,” KYUK said. DEC’s water division may respond to the proposed decision by May 5 along with the tribal council and Donlin Mine. The final decision will rest with DEC Commissioner Jason Brune when the administrative law judge’s proposed decision and all responses to it are before him. More than 1,000 Alaskans spoke out against the state’s plans to change the rules that regulate the use of water in salmon streams during a public comment period that ended on April 2. The Department of Natural Resources claims the changes are needed “to provide clarity and consistency in the Division of Mining, Land and Water’s processes.” The changes would give developers the rights to take water from streams but would not allow other entities to hold instream water reservations to protect fish stocks. The Alaska Miners Association in 2018 blamed “anti-development entities” for using instream flow reservations to stop projects, claiming the solution is to “place an immediate moratorium on processing applications and pursue regulatory changes to ensure that only state agencies can hold reservations of state water.” A legislative hearing has been requested. Finally, the Japanese government announced it will dump 250 million gallons of treated but still radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean that has been stored in massive tanks at the Fukushima nuclear plant that was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2011, calling it “the most practical solution.” The release will begin within two years and the government said it “will do its utmost to provide compensation to fishermen for any damages.” Big NOAA budget boost President Biden has proposed a 25 percent budget increase to nearly $7 billion in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would be the biggest in the agency’s history if it gets congressional approval. That is $1.4 billion more than NOAA received for this current budget year. National efforts to fight climate change served as a primary motivator for the budget boost. “This increase includes $800 million to expand investments in climate research, support regional and local decision-making with climate data and tools, and improve community resilience to climate change,” said an April 9 budget document. “These investments would support an expanded and improved drought early-warning system, as well as competitive grants to build coastal resilience to help reduce the costly economic and environmental impacts of severe weather events on communities.” This would help protect communities from the economic and environmental impacts of climate change, and invest in modern infrastructure to enable these critical efforts. NOAA’s responsibilities include weather forecasting, climate research, ocean research, maintaining the health of U.S. fisheries and protection of endangered marine species. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Union seeking seafaring apprentices

Alaska fishermen displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic are being recruited for seafaring jobs aboard U.S. cargo barges, tankers, towboats, military support vessels, research and cruise ships and more. The Seafarers International Union is searching nationally for 300 apprentice workers on the vessels they are contracted to crew. Recruiters tout Alaskans as being at the top of their list. “The reason for that is people from Alaska come with a work ethic already. They’ve been working since they could stand up. And that’s why they’re so good,” said Bart Rogers, assistant vice president at the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Maryland that has trained mariners for the SIU for over 50 years. “It’s very appealing to people who live in Alaska because they can sail in a safe environment, earn a very good wage, get benefits and medical coverage for them and their family, advanced training is guaranteed, then they can go back home and spend the money they make,” said Rich Berkowitz, vice president of Pacific Coast Operations at Seattle’s Transportation Institute, who helps recruit and assess potential mariners, adding that it also includes options for veterans and Native hire. Currently, the call is out to train workers for positions as Able Seafarer Deck (a qualification needed to sail internationally), chief cooks and stewards. The training programs vary from several months to a year, Rogers said, adding that there is no tuition to attend the school but does require some incidental costs. Berkowitz pointed out another lure for Alaskans. After they’ve made it through the training and onto the ships, they can schedule trips that still let them go fishing. “Let’s say they’re in hospitality trades, they can work a good portion of the cruise season and then spend three or four months working in a fishing season,” he said. Ralph Mirsky, director of Ketchikan-based nonprofit Sealink has recruited nearly 600 Alaskans to the maritime trades over 20 years. “And the reason for that is real simple,” he said. “They make a lot of money in a short period of time, and they can still do what they want at home.” Women comprise about 15 percent of the U.S. seagoing workforce, estimated at 14,000. “There’s at least two or three in every class,” Bart Rogers said. “And don’t get me wrong, but the women are smarter and work harder than the men all day long.” Berkowitz added that Alaska gets an economic lift from its residents working in maritime trades. “All the time on planes in Seattle I see oil workers flying back and forth to Alaska from Montana or Texas to work two weeks on and off on the Slope. What we’re doing is the opposite,” he said. “We’re flying Alaskans Outside where they make all their money and then they bring it back. They’re not spending anything while they’re on the vessels. So this is a net contributor to the state’s economy, rather than a drain on it.” Learn more at Fishing updates It’s hard to believe, but in little more than a month, Alaska’s salmon season will officially get underway when sockeyes and chinook return to the Copper River near Cordova. Meanwhile, there’s lots of fishing action across the state. It’s been slow going at Sitka Sound where about 20 seiners continue to tap on a 67 million pound herring harvest. A herring spawn on kelp fishery also is ongoing at Craig and Klawock with a nearly 38 million-pound harvest, the highest ever. Kodiak’s herring fishery is ongoing with a 16 million pound catch limit. Divers continue going down for more than a half-million pounds of geoduck clams. The sea cucumber fishery closed on March 31 with an allowable harvest of 1.7 million pounds. A ling cod fishery opens in Southeast on May 16 with a 310,700-pound quota. Prince William Sound’s popular pot shrimp fishery opens on April 15 with a 70,000-pound catch limit. The region also just wrapped up a small Tanner crab fishery. Kodiak’s Dungeness fishery opens in one region on May 1 with another opener following in mid-June. Cook Inlet opens for 150 tons of bait herring (300,000 pounds) from April 20 through May, and a smelt fishery opens on May 1 through June for 200 tons (400,000 pounds). In the Bering Sea, crabbers had taken nearly 80 percent of their 40.5 million-pound snow crab harvest, along with 62 percent of a 2.1 million-pound Tanner crab limit and 80 percent of a 6 million-pound golden king crab quota. Fishing continues in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for pollock, cod, flounders and many other kinds of fish. Sablefish (black cod) catches were approaching three million pounds out of a 43.4 million pound quota. Sitka was getting the most deliveries and paying nicely in five poundage categories: less than 2, $1; 2 to 3 pounds, $2.10; 3 to 4 pounds, $2.40; 4 to 5 pounds, $2.85; 5 to 7 pounds, $3.65; and 7-ups, $5.35 (h/t to the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits). Prices per pound for halibut reached $6 at Homer and $6.15 at Seward, although catches remained sluggish. Landings finally topped 1 million pounds out of a 19 million-pound catch limit with Juneau leading all ports for landings. And after five years of talk, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council could tap the brakes on halibut taken as bycatch by 18 Bering Sea trawl catcher/processors that target flounders, perch and mackerel. The boats are required by federal law to toss all halibut overboard as a “prohibited species” catch. Unlike other commercial, sport and subsistence users whose halibut catches fluctuate each year according to the health of the stock, the Seattle-based trawlers have a fixed bycatch cap of 7.3 million pounds. The council will consider basing that bycatch cap instead according to annual halibut abundance levels. Farewell to Phil Lifelong Alaskan, friend and mentor Phil Smith died peacefully at his Juneau home on March 30, surrounded by his family. He was 78. Phil served on the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission from 1983 to 1991. In 1995 NOAA Fisheries called on him to craft and implement Alaska’s first Individual Fishing Quota program for halibut and sablefish, a model for others to come across the U.S. Under his direction, a Subsistence Halibut Registration Certificate permit was created which enabled subsistence fishing for rural residents and Alaska Natives. Phil was invited to speak at international conferences to discuss that program and served as an expert for the U.N. advising Chile on its fisheries management reforms. His positive impacts on Alaska’s fisheries management, among other things, will last forever. In the words of his son, Crispian, Phil’s unique combination of incisive intelligence, encyclopedic knowledge, and boundless love affected and inspired many. He will be deeply missed. Donations may be made to the Sitka Summer Music Festival or Veterans for Peace Chapter 100 scholarship fund at Juneau. Heatwaves, algal blooms and birds, oh my! The Kodiak archipelago is featured at a virtual Marine Science Symposium set for April 19 to 22. Hosted by Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory program, it’s the fourth regional gathering that connects the island community to the science and research going on around it. The keynote speaker is Dr. Steve Barbeaux of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center who will describe how unprecedented warming in the Gulf of Alaska caused a cod crash in 2018 and a fishery shut down in 2020, and how the stock might fair in a warming world. Also on the agenda are brief talks on local subsistence harvests, harmful algal blooms, birds and crab. Register for free at Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Senate delegation battles Coast Guard over masks, administration over Russian seafood

The mask requirement for all persons aboard fishing vessels still stands and Alaska’s U.S. senators are adding their clout to have it removed. A Coast Guard a Marine Safety Information Bulletin issued on March 22 states its authority to restrict vessel access to ports and operations if they fail to follow the rules as defined by the Center for Disease Control. “Vessels that have not implemented the mask requirement may be issued a Captain of the Port order directing the vessel’s movement and operations; repeated failure to impose the mask mandate could result in civil and/or criminal enforcement action,” the bulletin says. The CDC mask requirement has been interpreted by the Coast Guard to apply to “all forms of commercial maritime vessels,” including cargo ships, fishing vessels, research vessels and self-propelled barges.” It requires “all travelers” to wear a mask, including those who have been vaccinated, according to National Fisherman which added, “Why commercial fishing vessels have been included in a requirement written for airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, trolleys, and cable cars has yet to be explained by the Coast Guard.” “Senator Murkowski and I have been pressing this relentlessly on a call with the Coast Guard commandant, a call with the White House guy who’s supposedly in charge of all the CDC issues, we had a meeting with the head of the CDC, we are trying to explain to them how, no offense, but just how stupid this is and how uninformed it is,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said last week at a ComFish forum. “And it could be a safety issue, not with regard to COVID, but with having to wear masks when you’re out on the deck of a ship in 30 foot waves trying to bring in gear or pots. So, we’re going to continue to work on that one.” “The CDC has planted their heels on this one as I understand it,” echoed Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Certainly, from a realistic standpoint, it makes no sense. So we’re on the front side of that conversation.” Vincent-Lang added that he is speaking with members of other coastal states and hopes to garner support to overturn the mask requirement. “I think to the extent that we can form some kind of a unified position on this issue across more states, we stand a better chance of changing it. Because this is a CDC guidance which can be changed depending upon how they get policy direction from the White House. And if they hear from other coastal states in addition to Alaska, they’ll probably be more inclined to do it,” he said. Feedback on the masking rule can be given at [email protected] Trade talk Alaska’s senators also spoke candidly about ongoing trade policies with Russia that hurt the U.S. seafood industry, and expressed hope for change under the new administration. Russia stopped purchasing any foods from the U.S. and other nations that imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses after its illegal land-grab of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Meanwhile, U.S. purchases of seafood from Russia have increased every year. Russian seafood imports to the U.S. in 2020, for example, topped 97.5 million pounds valued at nearly $1 billion, compared to 80.2 million pounds in 2019 valued at nearly $698 million. “I think it was the one area where the Trump administration was kind of weak. I thought we could have done more,” said Sullivan, calling the lack of action “a disappointment.” Sullivan said he raised the issue “front and center” in a recent meeting with new U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and called her “very impressive.” “I said, look, it’s just ridiculous. Six years! I mean, that embargo started at the end of the Obama administration and the whole Trump administration,” he said. “Meanwhile, most of their fish comes in almost duty free, and they’re taking market share from our fishermen in America. She’s going to look hard at this.” Murkowski added that she intends to raise the trade imbalance with new Secretary of State Antony Blinken and encourage him to include it in diplomatic discussions with Russia. “The fact that this has been in place for as long as it has, the fact that it has caused harm to our fisheries is something that the education needs to continue at different levels,” she said. “You’ve got U.S. trade, but you’ve also got the State Department with regards to the relationship that you have with Russia. This is one thing that I think we all agree we have got to have addressed. It has been going on for far, far too long and quite honestly, it’s untenable.” Both senators also said they spoke with the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor when they recently passed through Anchorage on their way to China and “pressed them hard to work on tariffs that the Chinese have put on our exports.” Murkowski and Sullivan also addressed many more topics at ComFish, including actions they are taking to mitigate climate change. View the full presentation at Hatchery hauls Last year nearly 31 million salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries were caught in commercial fisheries, or 27 percent of the statewide harvest. The dockside value of $69 million comprised 23 percent of the state’s total salmon value. That’s according to the annual salmon enhancement report newly released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There are 30 hatcheries producing salmon in Alaska, of which 26 are operated by private, nonprofits funded primarily from sales of a portion of the returns, called cost recovery. There also are two state-run sport fish hatcheries, one research hatchery operated by NOAA Fisheries, and one hatchery operated by the Metlakatla Indian community. At Prince William Sound, where six hatcheries operate, about 15 million hatchery salmon were harvested in 2020. Those fish accounted for 70 percent of the total commercial catch that was worth nearly $27 million at the docks, or 67 percent of the total value for the region. At Southeast Alaska, 14 hatcheries operate, split between northern and southern regions. Last year, fewer than 4 million hatchery salmon were caught accounting for 45 percent of the total harvest and 52 percent of the value to fishermen at $18 million. Two hatcheries operate at Kodiak where last year nearly 5 million salmon were harvested worth about $5 million, or 11 percent of the total dockside value. Nearly all of the fish were pinks. The three hatcheries at Cook Inlet produced just less than 200,000 salmon valued at $585,000, or 6.9 percent of the region’s total to fishermen. Alaska’s combined hatcheries released 1.7 billion juvenile salmon in 2020 and are projecting a return this year of nearly 66 million fish. Get schooled! A first-ever, field-based Alaskan Aquaculture Semester in Sitka is being offered this fall to a dozen students fromAlaska and across the nation. It’s part of the University of Alaska/Southeast Fisheries Technology Program that has been preparing students for jobs throughout the industry since 2009 with classes focusing on aquaculture and salmon enhancement and fisheries management. The aquaculture semester adds in more direct training on the water. “Students will come here and be able to get 13 credits of instruction with courses in salmon culture and mariculture, and also in cold water survival,” said Angie Bowers, assistant professor with the Fish Tech Program. “And they’re going to learn how to drive boats and fix motors and tie knots and how to be safe. They will also be able to do an internship based on whatever they’re interested in. We’ll tour processors, they will be able to help out at local hatcheries and shadow fishermen.” There are three salmon hatcheries in the region where students will help with egg takes and learn about fish pathology and rearing prior to the tiny salmon heading out to sea. Bowers said students also will be introduced to shellfish and kelp farming. “Because of the timing of the semester, that’s not the typical growing season for kelp, but we will be able to identify species of kelp and make the seed string that gets out-planted on a kelp farm. We will be visiting an oyster farm and we’ll try to incorporate as much of that mariculture experience as we can,” she said. Students also can get certified in SCUBA diving within the University program that trains scientific divers across the entire system. The Fish Tech Program is the university’s only one and two-year, entry level applied fisheries program. There has been a 10-fold growth since it began 12 years ago in Ketchikan and graduates now work for agencies or organizations across Alaska and in the Lower 48, said director Joel Marcus. Part of the program’s success, he said, is that nearly all classes can be taken remotely. But the new Aquaculture semester will focus on being out on the water. Only 12 students will be accepted for the fall semester that starts on Aug. 23 and runs through December. Visit Salmon Culture Semester to learn more or email Angie Bowers at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ‘Back to the future’ for canned Alaska salmon

It’s “back to the future” for Alaska canned salmon as more Americans choose it for its health benefits and as an easy-to-use ingredient for sandwiches, salads and more. Salmon canning in Alaska started in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, it was the state’s largest industry, generating 80 percent of the territorial tax revenues. Its position then in the state economy is one that oil enjoys today. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed record sales for the pantry shelf product and canned salmon sales soared by 30.3 percent in 2020 to $286 million. “Suddenly, there was double the demand for an item that’s normally very predictable,” said John Daly, manager of domestic canned sales for OBI Seafoods, Alaska’s largest producer of canned pink and sockeye salmon at nine plants across the state. “It’s not like the seafood counter at grocery stores. The canned fish business is the grocery business. It’s a center store aisle item. The best ability is availability, and that was really important because consumers were willing to buy anything and everything that was shelf stable and canned.” Daly said canned salmon “ticks all the boxes” that people want during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The conscious consumer is looking for things that are healthy, that are sustainable, that aren’t loaded up with questionable ingredients, they know where the fish comes from,” he explained. “Canned fish is one of the cleanest items in a grocery store. There’s two ingredients on the label, salt and fish.” Demand was so high it was a challenge last year to keep the retail shelves stocked. “We only fish for salmon three months out of the year and in March 2020, we were working off the last bit of the 2019 inventory and there’s not mounds of canned salmon lying around at the time of the year,” he said. “So it was an interesting time for salmon producers to react quickly to make sure they could keep their product in front of people but also not run out.” Sales have slowed to more normal levels, Daly said, adding that “normal isn’t pre-pandemic levels anymore. It’s about a 10 percent increase from that. That obviously means that canned salmon has gotten in front of more people and they’ve made repeat purchases. We want to capitalize on that.” Canned fish today accounts for only about 5 percent of Alaska’s salmon products. Of that, about 20 percent is canned sockeye which goes mostly to Canada, Europe and Australia. The bulk is pink salmon which for more than 100 years has predominantly been sold regionally across the U.S. Most of the sales have been driven by older Americans; Daly said a goal is to broaden appeal to younger buyers. “A longer term goal is to produce an item that’s more in line with what a younger consumer’s looking for. Maybe it’s a pouched grab and go snack, maybe it’s flavor added,” he said. Daly is convinced that Alaska’s oldest salmon product has the staying power to remain as one of the state’s most well-known tastes of history. “There was an article two years ago that said millennials don’t even own a can opener, so how is that going to go for canned fish?” he quipped. “Ever since I’ve been in the industry, I’ve heard that canned salmon is dying. And here we are with record numbers.” AK salmon gets swamped Alaska wild salmon accounts for only about 13 percent of the global salmon supply and competition will ramp up this year from other producers, notably Russia. Alaska is expected to produce a total harvest this year topping 190 million salmon, adding up to 880 million pounds. Global seafood supplier Tradex reports that a harvest of 300 million salmon is projected from Russia, topping 1 billion pounds. Much of that Russian salmon will compete with Alaskan fish in supermarkets across America and with international customers. Last year the U.S. imported nearly 38 million pounds of Russian-caught salmon products valued at over $14 million. Of that, 2.3 million pounds was sockeye salmon, valued at nearly $9 million. Yet Russia has not purchased one pound of any U.S. seafood since 2014. Meanwhile, Tradex President Rob Reierson said even more wild salmon will be added to the pack from other nations. “Globally, a veteran wild Pacific salmon expert projected an estimated 930,000 metric tons (over 2 billion pounds) of Pacific salmon to be harvested from all countries including Canada, Japan, and Korea in 2021.” But the numbers for wild caught salmon pale in comparison to farmed fish, which now captures nearly 74 percent of the world’s overall salmon production. Salmon farmers, led by Norway and Chile, are expected to produce nearly 6 billion pounds this year. And global reports say farmed and wild-caught combined are not expected to come near to satisfying the world’s demand for salmon. Herring ho-hum It’s a big year for Alaska roe herring fisheries but lackluster interest by both harvesters and processors is an ongoing story. The fishery at Sitka Sound opened on March 27 after a two-year stall due to small fish and a weak market. The seine fleet this year has a harvest of 33,304 tons (nearly 67 million pounds), but managers predict low participation and limited processing capacity. Ten or 15 boats could fish starting April 1 at Kodiak for one of its biggest fisheries in decades at 7,895 tons (16 million pounds). Togiak at Bristol Bay is Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, this year with a whopping 42,639-ton harvest (more than 85 million pounds). Last year only 3 boats and one buyer showed up there during the May fishery. The reason? The herring market has tanked over two decades by disinterest from the single buyer, Japan, where tastes and buying policies have changed. In the 1990s, Alaska fishermen fetched $1,000 per ton or more, and while product from Sitka today might pay out at a few hundred dollars a ton, at Togiak the price has been $50 to $75 for several years. Alaska’s herring catch in 2020 was so low that all data remain confidential. “It is maybe the most extreme example I’m aware of how a major Alaska industry could be dependent on an extremely specialized foreign market,” Gunnar Knapp, a retired University of Alaska fisheries economist, told KDLG in Dillingham. Robert Heyano, who has fished at Togiak for more than four decades, added that, “the industry needs to find other ways to sell its herring, such as bait or food.” Waste is another issue. Herring is frozen and usually shipped to Japan where the roe is extracted. The male fish have almost no value and are mostly turned into fishmeal, sold as bait or ground up and dumped. That’s also the fate of the female carcasses after their roe is taken. It’s estimated that only 12 percent of Pacific herring is used for human consumption. A report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute claims that if the discarded herring was instead turned into fillets, it would increase the first wholesale value by $11 million per year. Alaska’s herring fisheries have been managed for sac roe since the 1970s but today the fish is far more valuable as bait. At Dutch Harbor, for example, bait herring pays out at more than $500 per ton; at Cook Inlet it brings at least $1 per pound for fishermen. Ironically, many Alaska fishermen purchase herring for use as bait from the East Coast. Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the state Commercial Fisheries Division, agreed that it could be time for a change. “Those are regulations that the Board of Fish could modify,” he said. “If a person said we want to increase this opportunity or provide an additional opportunity to obtain their own bait, that is something the board could take a look at. And if we are in areas where the harvestable surplus isn’t being taken in the sac roe fishery, why not allow it in a different fishery.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut prices start strong but catch rates slow

Halibut prices for Alaska fishermen for 2021 started out significantly higher than last year, despite sluggish demand and transportation logjams in some regions. The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and two weeks later only 80 deliveries were made: 46 at Southeast ports and 34 from the Central Gulf totaling 355,524 pounds. Most landings appeared to be small lots that were purchased on consignment. The first fish typically fetches higher prices and then drops off as the season progresses. No Alaska ports reported paying less than $5 per pound whereas the 2020 price to Alaska fishermen averaged $4. Early prices at Sitka and Juneau, where there is daily air service, were reported at $5.50 to $5.75 per pound, up by a dollar from last year, and deliveries at Petersburg paid out at $5.75 straight. No ferry service and high costs for airfreight bit into buying at nearly all Southeast ports where major processors said they aren’t purchasing halibut until April or May. Fishermen delivering to Homer were paid $5.50 per pound, also up by more than a dollar. Other buyers on the Kenai Peninsula were paying $5.25 to $5.45 for 10- to 20-pounders and slightly more for larger fish. Reports from Whittier pegged the price at $5.50 to $5.75. Except for small amounts bought on consignment, few halibut sales were reported at Kodiak where the price was reported at $5 per pound straight. Pacific halibut from Alaska has been getting hit hard in recent years by fish from Eastern Canada, mostly Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with one Alaska buyer saying that region is now in the “front seat” for fresh market sales. Federal trade data show that in 2020, more than 10.5 million pounds of Atlantic halibut were imported to the U.S. from that region, valued at $70.2 million. Another 1.5 million pounds of Pacific halibut came into the U.S. from British Columbia valued at $22 million. Alaska halibut fishermen also are getting pinched from fresh farmed halibut from Norway which last year totaled about one million pounds, valued at $6.3 million. Halibut caught by Russian fleets and processed into frozen fillets in China also is making inroads into U.S. markets and underselling all others. In 2019 that totaled 2 million pounds, valued at nearly $7 million. Alaska’s catch limit for Pacific halibut is 19.6 million pounds. The fishery was extended by one month this year and will run through Dec. 7. New twists to seafood sales  Seafood sales set records at U.S. retail last year and the trend is continuing. Sales of fresh, frozen and pantry shelf items increased by nearly 30 percent in 2020 to almost $17 billion, outpacing meat, produce, and deli items. Perceptions of health and wellness are driving the surge, according to Seafood Source and a newly released Power of Seafood 2021 report from FMI-The Food Industry Association. In a national survey, FMI found that one-third of Americans ate seafood twice a week in the past year and nearly 60 percent said they believed upping their intake boosts their immune systems. A whopping 75 percent said they are eager to learn more about cooking seafood and want to be more knowledgeable about preparing and flavoring it. How and where seafood is caught also was important and 36 percent said they preferred wild-caught fish “because it is more nutritious.” However, preference for farm raised fish grew to 29 percent, up 10 points from 2019, with 35 percent saying it has better traceability than wild and is a healthier option.  “I believe there is more acceptance about farm-raised seafood due to more awareness about farm-raised options. Also, salmon is a major species in seafood and often farm-raised salmon is lower priced compared to wild-caught options,” Rick Stein, FMI Vice President of Fresh Foods, told SeafoodSource. The FMI report also showed that plant-based imitations have become more accepted by U.S. shoppers. Another report by Barclays claims that the fake fish industry is estimated to be worth $140 billion within the next decade, and could capture 10 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry. Nearly 60 percent of frequent seafood eaters said they are likely to try such products, while 31 percent said they would not. There also was a high correlation with healthy eating, and 62 percent cited sustainability as a major reason for turning to fish imitations. Overall, 71 percent of American consumers said they are concerned about seafood sustainability, with 41 percent saying it is a top factor in their buying choices.  That was most evident among younger consumers Seafood Source said, citing a survey by GlobeScan shared during a Seafood Expo North America panel that called it “a key trend among seafood purchasing.” Since 1999, GlobeScan has asked thousands of seafood consumers worldwide if they choose to reward companies that show they are “socially responsible.” Through 2017, about 20 percent said they would consider doing so, but in 2020 that number increased to 38 percent. The recent survey found that 70 percent of consumers want more information from companies about sustainability and 63 percent want to be able to trace their fish purchases back to a trusted source. But only 25 percent said they actually look for ecolabels on products, except for those aged 18-34. “That is something to really keep an eye on,” said Walmart Senior Manager of Sustainability Marife Casem. “There’s really a power in this generation,” she said. “They read not only the labels but the story behind the packaging.” “The younger consumer is really leading the way and influencing change,” said Kristen Stevens, senior marketing manager for the Marine Stewardship Council, which spearheaded the seafood ecolabel movement over 20 years ago. “I suspect we’re going to continue to see this momentum caused by this younger generation.” ComFish takes virtual to a new level  Kodiak’s ComFish Alaska trade show later this month puts the “social” back into social distancing.  Attendees can move in and out of forums and the trade show just like in-person events thanks to a new platform called Hopin. “It is not some boring Zoom meeting where you just have to sit and listen, it is nothing like that,” said Sarah Phillips, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, host of ComFish for 41 years. “Hopin is a completely immersive, engaging social experience. I think social is that key word that we've been missing out on so many of these virtual meetings.” Nearly 30 exhibitors have signed up so far for the event, scheduled for Mach 30 and 31. “It allows you to visit exhibitor booths, see what kind of specials and discounts they are offering, and engage face to face with the representative,” she explained. The forum line up provides the same opportunities. They include appearances by Alaska’s congressional delegation and state lawmakers, updates from the governor’s office, marketing, fishery updates, crab research, sea stories and much more. “Any questions that you type into the chat box will be answered by the moderator or the presenters. And afterwards, some of our speakers are willing to go into a private, face to face session,” Phillips added.  Hopin also provides for enhanced connections to socializing with anyone who’s registered for ComFish. “As soon as you log in, you'll be able to see every person that's registered. You can click on their name and request a video chat or schedule a meeting, the possibilities are endless. It’s just like if you were at ComFish and you run into someone you haven't seen in a long time and say gosh, I'd love to catch up. And if there's a few people you see, you can get the whole gang together.” Phillips credits local and corporate sponsors for enabling the Chamber to purchase the Hopin platform for ComFish. “People have really stepped up because they know the importance of this show to not only our community, but all of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.” Registering for free at also enters your name for prizes and a sneak peek of the Hopin platform. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Pinks drive projected increase in salmon haul

Alaska’s salmon harvest for 2021 is projected to be a big one with total catches producing a haul that could be 61 percent higher than last year, due mostly to an expected surge of pinks. Fishery managers are predicting a statewide catch topping 190 million fish compared to 118.3 million in 2020. The break down by species includes 46.6 million sockeye salmon (a 203,000 increase); 3.8 million cohos (1.4 million higher); 15.3 million chums (6.7 million more); 296,000 chinook (up by 4,000); and 124.2 million pink salmon (a 63.5 million increase). In its report titled Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2021 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2020 Season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides breakdowns for all species by region. Along with the projected 49 percent increase in pink salmon catches, Bristol Bay will again rule the day with sockeye runs to the region’s nine river systems expected to exceed 51 million fish and a harvest of 36.35 million reds, or 13 percent higher than the 10-year average. Other highlights: the Southeast Alaska pink salmon harvest of 28 million is predicted to be in the average range. The total all-species take for the region is projected at 40.2 million fish. At Copper River, the sockeye catch is projected at a meager 844,000 fish and 13,000 chinook salmon. For Prince William Sound, the total salmon harvest forecast calls for 59.7 million fish, of which nearly 55 million are pinks. Upper Cook Inlet fishermen are projected to take just more than 2 million salmon this summer, including 1.64 million sockeyes. At Lower Cook Inlet the all-salmon forecast calls for a harvest of 3.2 million fish, of which 1.8 million are pinks. Kodiak fishermen are expected to haul in 25.6 million salmon, including two million sockeyes and 22.5 million pinks. At Chignik, a catch of 3.1 million salmon is projected of mostly pinks. Fishermen at the South Alaska Peninsula could have an “excellent” haul of pink salmon of nearly 13 million. For the Arctic-Yukon Kuskokwim region, managers predict below average fisheries across the board, including a catch of just over half a million chum salmon. Grants for gear For more than a decade, derelict fishing nets, lines, pots and other marine debris has generated enough electricity to power over 44,000 homes per year. That’s thanks to the Fishing for Energy program and its partners who are now looking to gather more gear at no cost to fishermen or coastal communities through its annual grant program. Fishing for Energy is an arm of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which works with nearly 60 U.S. fishing communities in 14 states to help them dispose of old gear. Through March 2020 the program provided collection bins at 56 ports and collected more than 4 million pounds of gear normally destined for landfills, or which often ends up as derelict marine debris. In many cases, the old nets and pots are first sorted at Schnitzer Steel Industries where the metals are recycled into rebar wire rod and other specialty products. The remaining materials are converted into renewable energy at Covanta Energy-from-Waste facilities across the nation. Annually, Covanta converts nearly 22 million tons of waste from municipalities and businesses into clean, renewable electricity to power one million homes. Eligible grant applicants have been expanded to include non-profits, state, local, municipal and tribal government agencies and organizations, educational institutions and ports. Non-federal matches in cash or in-kind services are strongly encouraged but not required. Priorities this year include $15,000 grants for existing or new ports to install gear collection bins, or $10,000 to host gear collection events. Other grants averaging from $75,000 to $150,000 will be awarded for Capacity and Logistics Development for long-term fishing gear removal programs. To date, Fishing for Energy has awarded over $5 million in gear removal grants to more than 55 projects in 17 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Deadline to apply for the latest round of grants is March 30. Find links to an Easy Grants Help Desk at [email protected], or contact [email protected] Check out a video at called Fishing for Energy, ocean debris turned into fuel in Florida. COVID-19 cash for more fishing sectors The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021that was recently signed into law includes $4 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase food and agricultural commodities for distribution, including seafood. A breakdown by Undercurrent News shows that the money, which must be used during the 2021 fiscal year, also can be made available for grants and loans for small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to COVID-19, including for measures to protect workers against the virus. The Act also will prioritize grants to “small business concerns owned and controlled by women, veterans, or those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.” Grants to eligible businesses will not exceed $10 million and also will be limited to $5 million per physical location. reports that grant funds can be used for expenses incurred as a direct result of, or during, the pandemic, including payroll costs; payments of principal or interest on mortgages; rent payments; utilities; maintenance expenses such as constructing outdoor seating; supplies, including protective equipment and cleaning materials; food and beverage expenses; supplier costs; operational expenses; paid sick leave; and “any other expenses that the Administrator determines to be essential to maintaining the eligible entity.” The Rescue Plan narrowly passed last week by a 50-49 vote in the U.S. Senate. Both Alaska Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan voted against the bill. Fish Board push back The state Board of Fisheries voted unanimously on March 8 to not double up its meeting cycle to include two Alaska regions, and instead advance them by one year. The board, which regulates commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in state waters, meaning out to three miles, would normally be wrapping up a roster this month that included 275 proposals for Southeast, Yakutat, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish. But the ongoing Covid pandemic curtailed those plans. “Starting in October of 2021 it will do its work session followed by a Prince William Sound meeting in November and December and the Southeast finfish and shellfish meetings in January, and then do its statewide all shellfish meeting in March of 2022,” said boards director Glenn Haight. In October 2022, the Board’s work session will be followed by a two-day Pacific cod meeting and then fishery issues for Bristol Bay and Chignik, the Bering Sea, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula regions. The doubling up faced push back from the public and regional advisory committees. “I think it was an admirable thing that the board was trying to get back on track in regard to the pandemic we’re dealing with. Recognizing the headwinds and navigating through the comments, I think it’s important that we listen to the constituents,” said unconfirmed member Abe Williams. The double up also would have cost an additional half million dollars in a supplemental budget, said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Haight advised that the call for proposals for Bristol Bay, Chignik and regions further west that were due on May 10 of this year also has been extended. “For anyone out there fastidiously creating proposals for those meetings to turn them in this May, no need to hurry as you’ll have almost a full year.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: More surveys out seeking COVID-19 impacts

It’s likely that no other fishing regions of the world reach out for stakeholder input as much as Alaska does to gather policy-shaping ground truth by state and federal managers and organizations. That’s demonstrated by two new surveys: one which aims to quantify how much Alaska fishermen and processors paid out over the past year to lessen COVID-19 impacts and how much relief they got from government programs; the other to learn what technology needs are tops with harvesters. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is collecting information not available elsewhere on the pandemic impacts. Processors are being asked about financial losses due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, plant closures and employment changes, as well as their expectations for costs and employment levels in 2021, explained Jenna Dickinson, a consultant with the McKinley Research Group who is working with ASMI on the project. Processor costs include but are not limited to charter flights and hotel put-ups for worker quarantines, plant modifications, medical and testing supplies and related services. Many fishermen also paid for similar coverages for their crews. “We are similarly asking permit holders about the financial impacts of the pandemic, their hiring levels in 2020 compared to 2019 (pre- COVID-19), their estimates for anticipated costs in 2021, and whether the pandemic has caused them to sell or buy permits, boats or other assets, reduce crew, stop fishing entirely or make other changes to their fishing operations,” she explained. Both processors and fishermen also are being asked whether COVID-19 relief payments covered their 2020 losses, Dickinson added. Data from the surveys, which will be revealed by early May, will be used to provide policy makers and other stakeholders a clear picture of the condition of the industry one year into the pandemic. The surveys are open through March 18. Find both at under Announcements. Also, as part of ASMI’s ongoing work with McKinley to understand and report on COVID-19 impacts on Alaska’s seafood industry, a series of briefing papers is available at the ASMI website. The January brief, for example, describes COVID-19 impacts to global freight costs, how a surplus of frozen farmed salmon causes uncertainty for wild salmon markets, and anticipated hits to tax revenues for coastal communities in 2021. Questions? Contact Ashley Heimbigner at [email protected] or Jenna Dickinson at [email protected] Top tech needs Another survey by Seafood Harvesters of America asks U.S. fishermen to help identify technology priorities that can be scaled up to benefit all users. “This survey rose out of the recognition that the fishing industry needs a lot of advancements in the technology department,” said SHA Executive Director Leigh Habegger. “A lot of times we see vessels using technology that’s 10 to 15 years old and they haven’t really caught up with all the advances. Another part of this is that it’s not always clear how technology can be applied to fishing vessels as they are very unique platforms,” “There’s so much automation going on in terms of sensors that are uploading automatically to the cloud, and data centers in general are getting a lot more sophisticated and better able to predict where fish are to reduce bycatch, fish more efficiently and treat our product better. These are all things that are very possible with the current technology that’s out there,” agreed Edward Poulson, SHA vice-president and a spokesman for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “But being in the fishing industry, we’re pretty conservative. We know what works and we’re not super excited about trying things that we don’t know. That kind of keeps us more firmly footed in the 20th century instead of the 21st century.” “A lot of the technology innovations in terms of deck machinery, sorting tables, launchers, coiling machines, those are all things that were developed in the ‘70s and we’re still using that stuff,” Poulson added. “There’s been very little in terms of change but I think there are a lot more opportunities. Broadly scaling tech advances also is a big challenge to make them cost effective for developers, Poulson said, and something designed for a specific problem or region can mean the user group is too small. “If a tech company is designing something that is only going to be used for something difficult to build like an automated pot hauler, that’s super expensive and really hard to scale. You’re not going to have the market opportunity to amortize that over a lot of boats to build a big profit potential for a technology company,” he explained. “However, if you can show that there’s a lot of other fishing vessels in the U.S. that have some similar sort of a need, then all of a sudden technology companies have a lot larger interest.” “We have fishing groups as members all over the country so we can start to identify patterns,” Habegger added. “Maybe folks who are using fixed gear pots in New England might have some similarities with the Dungeness crab fishery on the West Coast. And there may be a solution to address whale entanglements across both of these fisheries versus trying to do this piecemeal.” The short survey includes tech advancements in four areas: sustainability, such as bycatch reduction and gear selectivity; safety; productivity, such as robotics and hybrid engines; and data usages and platforms. SHA hopes to gather responses by the end of May. A priority list and a report will follow along with plans to bring fishermen, tech developers and fishery managers together this fall to move conversations forward. Find the Fisheries Technology Survey at Fishy appointee Another of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s fishery appointments has raised eyebrows among stakeholders. Melvin Smith, an Anchorage real estate executive formerly with the Aleut Corp., will take a lead seat at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, which regulates fishing permits and vessel licenses across Alaska. The job comes with a six-figure salary. The appointment was not announced nor advertised. Coast Alaska reported that Smith’s name surfaced when it was sent to the state Senate for consideration by lawmakers. Dunleavy “believes he’s the best candidate,” spokesman Jeff Turner told Coast Alaska. Fisherman and former lobbyist Bob Thorstensen added it’s customary for someone close or loyal to the governor to be tapped for commissioner jobs. “Whoever gets that job is usually a pretty good friend of the governor’s people because it’s a choice job,” he said. The CFEC’s next big task is to determine the right number of permits in various limited entry fisheries, which was originally based on historical participation and may not be the optimum number for a fishery or region. Community grants American Seafoods is calling for grant applicants from Kodiak Island, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, the Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. The majority of each grant award will range from $1,000 to $7,500 for projects addressing food security and community social needs. Recipients will be selected by an advisory board on April 28. The deadline to submit applications is April 12. Fill out an application here or contact Kim Lynch [email protected]; 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Rare optimism as halibut fishery kicks off

The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and increased catch limits combined with a cautiously optimistic outlook for the near future have fanned interest in buying shares of the popular fish. In January, the International Pacific Halibut Commission boosted total halibut removals for 2021 by 6.5 percent to 39 million pounds for all users and as bycatch in fisheries of the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. That is higher than the total take for the past three years. For commercial fishermen, the halibut catch limit of 25.7 million pounds is an increase of 2.6 million pounds over 2020. Alaska gets the largest chunk at 19.6 million pounds, and all regions except for the Bering Sea will see increased catches. “People are thrilled to see that, hopefully, the tide has turned after catch limits for most areas have been declining for about the past 15 years. And they are happy to know they’re going to see some more pounds on their permits this year,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “By all accounts the market looks like it is warming up,” agreed Lisa Gulliford at Permit Master in Tacoma, Wash. “Interest and flexibility from both buyers and sellers is always good news and I am hopeful this trend will continue through the year.” The optimism over the apparent better health of the halibut stock is reflected in the demand for purchasing shares of the fish that is pushing up prices, Bowen added. It’s nowhere near the levels in 2017 when quota share prices in the Central Gulf of Alaska, for example, were at $65 or more per pound and now are closer to $45. Quota shares at Southeast that topped $70 are listed in the $45 to high $50 range per pound. The increase in halibut catches is one part of the equation; the other is what the fish will bring at the docks. “We were seeing some decline in values even before the pandemic hit, with increased imports from the east coast of Canada and halibut coming in from Russia and even farmed halibut showing up in Costco from Norway,” Bowen said. “So there’s more competition in the market place. And then the pandemic didn’t help with all the restaurants closed and the cruise ships tied up. Even with all that, we still saw pretty decent prices last year. In Homer, we probably averaged $4.50 a pound for the whole season. Considering the pandemic and the hit to the economy, that was probably a pretty good price. And we’re hoping to see a good price again this year.” Federal data show the annual average ex-vessel (dock) price for halibut has been decreasing since 2016. The price to Alaska fishermen in 2020 averaged $4 per pound and the value of the fishery totaled just less than $62 million. That compared to an average dock price of $5.30 per pound in 2019 and a fishery value of more than $87 million. Meanwhile, another good sign, Bowen added, is that boat sales are “brisk.” “I don’t know whether you could find a stronger vote of confidence in investing into these fisheries by buying a boat or buying quota,” he said. “So yeah, there’s definitely some optimism in the fishery in spite of this pandemic that’s going on in the background. It’s very encouraging.” The Pacific halibut fishery this year also was extended by one month to Dec. 7. The human side of halibut economics Who are the users of Pacific halibut and how do they use it? Answers to that question will come from responses to a stakeholder survey that aims to provide stakeholders with an assessment of the economic impact of the Pacific halibut resource in Canada and the U.S. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is the first regional group in the world to conduct such a study, claiming that understanding the human dimension is part of its mandate for optimum management of the resource. The survey assesses halibut users in commercial, sport charter, subsistence and processor sectors. It measures economic impacts from hook to dinner plate, employment and incomes, household prosperity and contributions to regional and national economies, known more broadly as multiplier effects. “So per dollar of landed fish, how much economic activity is generated and how much of this translates to wages and to the national GDP. (GDP is Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the U.S. economy and its growth.) That encompasses effects on wages, but also effects on profits by the businesses that are supported by the commercial or recreational fisheries,” said Barbara Hutniczak, IPHC lead economist for the study. The survey also includes regional spillovers to other areas. “For example, a vessel that is fishing in Alaska and benefiting from the Alaska-based halibut resource might in the wintertime be serviced in Washington state. So in this case, the economic effects will also be in Washington state because the marina where this vessel is serviced will have additional economic activities,” she explained. The confidential survey includes four main sections on vessel activities, revenue and quota use, labor information and vessel operating expenses. Hutniczak said responses are accepted on a rolling basis and the information will be updated continuously. “I would like to encourage stakeholders to provide the information that will benefit all the sectors and show the potential of each sector in terms of supporting the local communities and economies and various other aspects that can be highlighted through your responses,” she said. Questions? Contact Barbara.Hutni[email protected] or 206-552-7693. Fishing mentors wanted The Young Fishermen’s Fellowship Program is calling for fishing groups or businesses to partner with young Alaska fishermen to help them hone skills in management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and more. It’s the fifth year for the Fellowship, which is an offshoot of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “The program is really energized to help young fisherman bridge the gap between the water and the waterfront and to help diversify their experiences within the fishing industry,” said AMCC Working Waterfront director Jamie O’Connor. “It has included everything from direct marketing to the history of fisheries to policy and whatever creative, meaningful project our host organizations can dream up. It’s a really great way for young fishermen to utilize other skills that they may have onshore.” The program has so far placed 15 fishermen under 40 in a wide range of mentorships, many of which have led to diverse careers. They are paid a stipend that usually adds up to $16 to $26 per hour, depending on experience. “Our fishing fellows have gone on to careers as fishery staffers in Congress, (Advisory Panel) members to the council, one used her time with the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association to segue into work as a fleet manager in Sitka for one of the seafood companies out there,” O’Connor said. She added that along with being a Bristol Bay fisherman, her Fellowship experience with the North Pacific Fisheries Association in Homer led into her current job at AMCC. “I think one of the main benefits I’ve seen to both Fellows and the host organizations is building those relationships within the broader fisheries community and the industries that support them,” O’Connor added. “It expands our fisheries network in a really beautiful way.” Interested mentors can apply through March 31 and a call for fishing fellows will follow. Mentors and Fellows will then be matched up and work out flexible schedules lasting two to five months. “If you have a project that you think could be energized by the efforts of a young fisherman, reach out to me and I can help you put a proposal together,” she said. Organizations and businesses can apply at Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Report estimates 2021 Russian salmon to double Alaska’s 2020 output

Alaskans are preparing for another salmon season of poor to average runs to most regions. The big exception once again is at Bristol Bay where another massive return of more than 51 million sockeye is expected. Managers predict that surge will produce a harvest of more than 36 million reds to fishermen. Bristol Bay is home to the largest wild sockeye salmon run in the world and typically accounts for 42 percent of the world’s sockeye harvest. Those fish and all wild salmon compete in a tough worldwide commodities market, where Alaska salmon claims 13 percent of the global supply. Farmed salmon production, which outnumbers wild harvests by nearly three-to-one, is Alaska’s biggest competitor; the other is Russia. According to global seafood trading company Tradex, Pacific salmon catches from Russia are projected to top 1 billion pounds in 2021. As a comparison, Alaska’s 2020 catch of nearly 117 million salmon weighed in at just more than 500 million pounds. The Russian catch breaks down to more than 700 million pounds of pinks; nearly 206 million pounds of chum; 70.6 million pounds of sockeye; more than 24 million pounds of coho; and 8.8 million pounds of chinook. Sockeye are Alaska’s big money maker, comprising well more than a third of the salmon fishery’s total value each year, and the market outlook continues to be encouraging. “The global sockeye market continues to strong and it continues to be a popular and a sought after product,” said Tasha Cadence, a Tradex spokesperson. That is borne out at home, said Rising Tides Communications of Anchorage which handles marketing across all platforms for the fishermen funded/operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “Despite a wild ride during a global pandemic, the BBRSDA marketing program had an incredibly successful year,” Rising Tide wrote in its annual report. “On the retail side, in spite of several pandemic-related retail promotion cancellations, we grew from 800 retail promotions in 2019 to 2200 in 2020 — a 175 percent increase. The average ‘lift’ experienced by our retail partners during our promotions grew from 34 percent in 2019 to 52 percent in 2020.” Tradex’s Cadence recommended that buyers “purchase enough sockeye for your future requirements if you want to continue to have a salmon program” and added that “prices are high but remain steady and we should expect pricing to remain this way until the 2021 salmon fisheries in Alaska and Russia start up.” In 2020, the U.S. imported nearly 4 million pounds of salmon from Russia worth more than $14 million. More than half was sockeye salmon, valued at nearly $9 million. And the competition from the “Great Bear” will only get tougher. Russia is making huge investments to increase and modernize its fishing capacity by building more than 20 new processing plants and 90 new vessels by the year 2030. The plan also includes the launch of a new marketing and supply chain strategy called “the Russian Fish.” And while that imported fish will compete directly with U.S. catches at retail counters and restaurants, sales have not been reciprocated and Russia has not purchased an American-caught pound since 2014. (The snub stems from a politically motivated embargo over U.S. objections to Russia’s incursions into Ukraine.) According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the value of Russian seafood imports to the U.S. has grown 70 percent since 2014 and has more than tripled to nearly $700 million in 2019, an increase of $11.5 million over 2018. And the Russian seafood comes into the U.S. almost entirely duty free. Water worries Alaska salmon stakeholders are expressing concern over the state’s plans to change the rules that regulate the use of water in salmon streams, and they are hopeful Alaskans will weigh in on the side of the fish. A Jan. 15 “Letter to Alaskans” from the Department of Natural Resources says the changes are needed “to provide clarity and consistency in the Division of Mining, Land and Water’s processes. “We absolutely agree that the rules need more clarity,” said Lindsey Bloom, campaign strategist for the advocacy group SalmonState based in Juneau. “The problem is that they’re proposing to roll the regulations back in the absolute opposite direction and create a lot more red tape and hoops for Alaskans to jump through who want to reserve water and streams for fish to ever achieve that.” For decades, water rights advocates have proposed a simple solution, Bloom said: a blanket reservation that states that a reasonable amount of water will automatically be reserved for fish. The onus would fall to developers to study the hydrology of a water system to prove their project would cause no harm. “Unfortunately, the Dunleavy administration is choosing to take it in the opposite direction, and make it very, very difficult to reserve the water for fish,” she explained. “They’re saying the assumption is there are no fish in a stream, and the fish don’t need the water. And if Alaskans want that water to stay in the stream, they have to prove it with up to five years of specific hydrological data and make an application to the state. “One of the things this does is take away my right or a Tribal government’s right or a fishing organization’s right to hold the certificate for the in-stream flow reservation. “And it says that even if I go through all of the investment and the work of perfecting an application and getting a reservation of water, then DNR will hold that water right. If that were ever to be challenged in any way, I don’t have any assurance or security that DNR would protect that water right into the future.” The Alaska Miners Association, in its 2018 policy statement, blamed “anti-development entities” for using in-stream flow reservations to stop projects. The AMA said the solution is to “place an immediate moratorium on processing applications and pursue regulatory changes to ensure that only state agencies can hold reservations of state water.” Alaskans were invited by DNR to make comments through Feb. 26 to Brandon McCutcheon at [email protected]/ ‘Frankenfish’ correction The statement in last week’s column that genetically tweaked salmon will not be clearly identified for U.S. consumers was incorrect. For years, fish maker AquaBounty Technologies has pushed back against labeling requirements identifying the fish as genetically engineered due to severe and ongoing backlash from Americans and major supermarket chains. But “Frankenfish” has lost that battle. In late December 2020, Sen. Lisa Murkowski secured language within the Fiscal Year 2021 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Bill that requires the term “genetically engineered” to be included in the market name of any GE animal approved for human consumption by the FDA prior to February 2019. This requirement will therefore apply to GE salmon products, which were approved by FDA in 2015, Murkowski press secretary Hannah Ray said. ComFish is on! ComFish at Kodiak is Alaska’s longest running commercial fisheries tradeshow and the 41st event will take virtual meetings to a whole new level. ComFish Alaska is scheduled for March 30 and 31 and will feature a new platform called “Hop In” that allows participants to interact and socialize with vendors, presenters and friends far beyond what remote users have experienced so far. “It’s a truly social platform that’s as close to being there as you can get,” said Sarah Phillips, executive of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce that hosts ComFish. Exhibitors on the trade show floor and forums all will be live and interactive, and attendees can provide instant feedback and break into their own chat rooms with friends among other special features, Phillips added. ComFish is still being organized and more information will be available soon. Send questions to [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Coast Guard says it will enforce mask mandate

Fishermen must wear masks while they are underway, even while sleeping, and the Coast Guard intends to enforce it. That’s an edict issued as a public health emergency by the Center for Disease Control in a Marine Safety Bulletin issued on Feb. 1. It requires the wearing of masks at all times in U.S. waters on all commercial vessels “when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel” to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The action states that, “conveyance operators traveling into or within the U.S. may transport only persons wearing masks and must use best efforts to ensure that masks are worn.” Best efforts include allowing entry to a vessel only to those who wear masks, instructing persons that failure to comply constitutes a violation of federal law, and removing any person who refuses to comply. Exemptions apply to children younger than 2, a person with a disability who cannot safely wear a mask or a person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety or job duty, or if an operator is “the sole occupant of the vehicle.” Exceptions to the rule apply while eating or drinking, communicating with a hearing-impaired person or if a person is unconscious. National Fisherman editor Jessica Hathaway was the first to break the news on Feb. 11, and said she was advised by the Coast Guard that fishing vessels are included under the rule “at this time.” When she requested further guidance, Hathaway was directed to the CDC. “Enforcing this rule would certainly be difficult,” Hathaway wrote. “However, it clearly opens the door for being boarded and fined. The Coast Guard has clarified that the rule will be enforced.” The mask requirement will remain in effect “unless modified or rescinded based on specific public health or other considerations, or until the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescinds the determination.” Fishermen and others can submit comments and questions via email at [email protected]/ Fish board bumps The state Board of Fisheries will meet online on March 8 to decide when, where and how to fit in a double slate of meetings that span from Southeast Alaska to the Arctic upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. The board would normally be wrapping up a roster of 275 proposals for Southeast, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish next month. But those regions are likely to be bumped to next winter or mixed in with already scheduled meetings for other regions this fall. “We currently have the work session in October and then that’s followed immediately by a Pacific cod meeting, which is for the Alaska Peninsula, Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea and Chignik. So those are currently slated for this coming October,” said board executive director Glenn Haight. “And Bristol Bay will happen in December. It’s possible you could put in a Prince William Sound or Southeast meeting in November, and then continue on into January with some of the other ones. It’s just a matter of putting things in the right places so people have a chance to react to them and we have time to do all the factors that go into it.” The call for fishery proposals for Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik, the Arctic, Yukon, Kuskokwim and Bering Sea regions has been extended from April 10 to May 10. “The board did not reopen the call for proposals for Southeast, Yakutat, Prince William Sound and shellfish statewide.” Haight explained. “So what we currently have for proposals is what the board will take up next year. There was a note though, that if there are some conservation issues or if there are other kinds of pressing matters, people from those regions can submit an agenda change request by Aug. 23 and the board will review those requests at their October work session.” Public comments for the special March 8 meeting are accepted through March 2. Meanwhile, four of the seven board members, only one who hails from a coastal community, have yet to be confirmed by the Alaska Legislature even as they are making decisions. GM salmon arrives It’s taken nearly three decades but genetically-modified salmon is set to hit supermarket shelves in a month or two. The fish, dubbed “frankenfish” by critics, is the first such animal to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is manmade from an Atlantic salmon with genes spliced from chinook and an eel-like ocean pout. The faster growing fish can go from egg to 11 pounds in 18 months, or 10 months faster than normal salmon. Once the market normalizes after the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies plans to produce nearly 3 million pounds annually at its recirculating aquaculture system facility in Indiana, the company told Undercurrent News. Another land-based farm is planned in the U.S. and a smaller farm at Prince Edward Island in Canada already is selling the genetically modified salmon there. Push back to the manmade fish has been fierce, even before it was approved by the FDA in 2015, and it has steadily increased. Numerous polls over the years show that consumers simply don’t want it. Recently, major foodservice supplier Aramark said it will boycott the gene-tampered fish, joining the ranks of Compass Group and Sodexo. Also, more than 80 retailers have said they won’t sell the salmon, including Costco, Walmart, Target, Albertsons, Kroger and Whole Foods. Still, in other supermarket fish cases, consumers won’t be sure what they’re getting because no clear labeling will be required. Instead, the makers will be allowed to use bar codes on labels or provide 800-numbers that refer customers to more information. The U.S. green light on genetically engineered salmon has opened the door for other creatures. At least 35 other species of fish — as well as chickens, pigs and cows engineered to fit in factory farming systems — are currently under development. Meanwhile, Undercurrent reported that AquaBounty announced last week it has raised more than $127 million in a public offering of stock that included 14,950,000 shares at a price to the public of $8.50 per share. Fish info for all One unexpected plus to the COVID-19 pandemic is how it has brought fishing industry information, workshops and training to far more people through web-based events, no matter where they are located. Two are in the upcoming pipeline: Up first is the annual Fishermen’s Expo on Feb. 22 hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. “We’re going to focus more on loan programs for folks that are interested in getting involved in fishing. We have a speaker from the Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank that provides financing for fishermen, and we’ll also have a loan officer from the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development to talk about some of the loan programs that they have for commercial fishermen,” said ALFA communications director Natalie Sattler. Emergency skills will be featured by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association along with ALFA’s crew apprentice program. Also, updates on years of local ocean floor mapping, called bathymetry, that helps fishermen target catches better and avoid harmful fishing practices. Go to to register for the Expo links and updates. Then, on March 4 and 5, a who’s who of big names is in the lineup for the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. It will feature mariculture, regional broadband, fish forecasts, marketing updates, legislative leaders and commissioners, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, COVID-19 relief programs, community roundtables and much more. Find links to register for the SWAMC Summit at Topics at both virtual events will appeal to anyone interested in Alaska’s seafood industry as well as those far removed from fishing. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Report finds increase in 2020 retail seafood sales

Seafood sales “are on fire” in America’s supermarkets and a king salmon from Southeast Alaska is worth the same as two barrels of oil. A troll-caught, 11-pound chinook salmon was worth $116.16 at the docks versus $115.48 for two barrels of oil at $57.74 each as of Feb. 3. As more COVID-19-conscious customers opted in 2020 for seafood’s proven health benefits, salmon powered sales at fresh seafood counters. Frozen and “on the shelf” seafoods also set sales records, and online ordering tripled to top $1 billion. Those are some takeaways from a National Fisheries Institute Global Marketing Conference hosted online by SeafoodSource News. Here is a sampler of what experts called “eye-popping” 2020 retail sales reflecting America’s trend to eat more fish. IRI, a world leader in market data, said overall sales at in-store fresh seafood counters jumped 28 percent to $871 million, led by salmon with a 19 percent increase to $2.2 billion. Fresh crab sales reached an “unheard of” 62 percent growth; other top 10 fresh items included cod, crab/seafood cakes and halibut. Frozen seafood had the biggest sales gains, up 35 percent to $7 billion. Frozen raw shrimp was the biggest winner in the frozen category with sales surging by 48 percent. Sales of pantry shelf seafood items rose by 20.3 percent to nearly $3 billion, with salmon products “soaring” 30.3 percent to $286 million. Despite the dizzying sales heights, the market experts pointed to some potential headwinds. Baby Boomers were the biggest buyers of on-the-shelf seafood and there is a need to engage with younger consumers, they said. And frozen seafood sales skewed towards wealthier households with annual incomes above $100,000, pointing out a need to attract lower-income seafood buyers. Growth across all seafood sales categories is expected to continue this year, but “the industry shouldn’t rest on its laurels,” IRI Senior Vice President Chris DuBois told SeafoodNews. As COVID-19 vaccinations increase, more Americans will go out to eat and frozen sales — the biggest gains from stay at home and hunker down orders — could decline. Online “e-commerce” seafood sales, however, are projected to be reflect double-digits. Call for crew The call is out for trainees who want to learn the fishing life firsthand. It is the fourth year that the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka has hosted the program that has drawn more than 120 applicants each year. The crew training is one way ALFA is attracting younger entrants into an industry where the average Alaska fisherman’s age is older than 50. So far it’s brought aboard nearly 35 new boots on deck by more than 25 skippers; 64 more have gotten advance on-shore training. “We provide an opportunity for young folks to either do a short term experience or long term,” said Natalie Sattler, program and communications director for ALFA and its Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. “Traditionally, a lot of our apprentices or crew member trainers are on longliners and trollers, but we do offer a shorter term experience, maybe on a gillnetter or a seiner for a day or even a week to just see how that goes. And last year, we had a couple of recent high school graduates who went out on a tender for the season.” Funding for the program comes from the National Wildlife Federation and Alaska Community Foundation Workforce Development, Sattler said. And while it attracts interest in the U.S. and globally, a priority is recruiting young Alaskans, especially from rural regions. “I’ve been speaking with folks in Bristol Bay who want to start something up, and we’ve shared our resources with Sea Grant. As part of our funding and grants a requirement is to try to get it going in other communities as well,” she added. Many new crew return to fish with the same skippers. One is troller Eric Jordan who spearheaded the training program on his own in 2015. He has so far mentored over 50 young fishermen aboard his troller, the Gotta, and says the future depends on them learning the right ways to care for the fisheries and the fish. “Finding crew with some experience who love fishing in Alaska is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole. One of the things this program provides is the taste of it,” Jordan said. “Deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” Training in grant writing and fishing policy and management also is offered, and 30 apprentices have contributed to the process so far through written or oral testimony. The new deck hands are paid for their work. The minimum age is 18 and the deadline to apply is March 1. ( Fishing updates Freezing February weather doesn’t keep Alaskans off the fishing grounds from Southeast to Norton Sound. In the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, boats are pulling in pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish. More than 3 billion pounds of pollock will come out of the Bering Sea this year, and another 250 million pounds from the Gulf. Prince William Sound also has a winter pollock fishery that will produce nearly 5 million pounds. Many Alaska crab fisheries are underway or soon to be. Bering Sea crabbers have taken about 17 percent of their 40.5 million pound snow crab harvest, and 30 percent of a Tanner harvest of just more than 2 million pounds. The golden king crab the catch was nearing 5 million pounds out of a 6 million-pound catch quota. A red king crab opened in Norton Sound on Feb. 1. No buyers mean the crab will be sold to eager locals. A Tanner crab fishery also will open at Prince William Sound for one month by special permit starting on March 1. Southeast Alaska’s Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open on Feb. 17. A million pounds or more could come out of the Tanner fishery from 75 crabbers. For goldens, 14 crabbers are expected to drop pots for a 76,500-pound limit. Also at the Panhandle, fishing continues for black rockfish and ling cod. About 150 divers are finishing up a 1.7 million-pound sea cucumber harvest and 50 more are still going down for over half a million pounds of geoduck clams. The Pacific halibut season starts on March 6 and runs through Dec. 7. Water watch The state wants to change the rules that regulate water in salmon streams. A Jan. 15 letter to Alaskans from the Department of Natural Resources advises that it is proposing “to revise its water management regulations regarding the appropriation and use of water.” The letter explains why the changes are needed and invites Alaskans to comment. Specifically, the Division of Mining, Land and Water, or DMLW, is proposing to revise regulations relating to the closure of water right applications, the contents of in-stream flow reservation applications, the issuance of certificates and the review of such flows, the procedures for temporary water use, public notices and hearings on critical water management areas, and definitions. The proposed regulations are “intended to provide clarity and consistency in DMLW’s Water Section processes,” the letter to Alaskans said. The public can comment on the water changes by Feb. 26. Find the “Notice of Proposed Changes on Water in the Regulations of the Department of Natural Resources” at the Alaska Online Public Notice System and on DMLW’s news website at: Comments can be emailed to Brandon McCutcheon, Division of Mining, Land and Water at [email protected]/. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut commission boosts harvest for 2021

Pacific halibut harvesters got some rare good news last week: increased catches in 2021 along with a longer fishing season. At its annual meeting that ended on Jan. 25, the International Pacific Halibut Commission boosted the coastwide removals for 2021 to 39 million pounds, a 6.53 percent increase versus last year. It includes halibut taken in commercial, sport, subsistence, research, personal use and as bycatch for fisheries of the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. A total of 278 individual Pacific halibut stakeholders attended the meeting via an electronic platform. For commercial fishermen, the halibut catch limit of 25.7 million pounds compares to a take of 23.1 million pounds in 2020. Alaska gets the largest chunk of the Pacific harvest at 19.6 million pounds, compared to just more than 17 million pounds last year. All Alaska regions but one, the Bering Sea, will see increased catches. Here is the breakdown in millions of pounds provided by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer with percentages of change from 2020: Southeast (Area 2C): 3.53 (+3.52 percent) Central Gulf (3A): 8.95 (+26.95 percent) Western Gulf (3B): 2.56 (+6.22 percent) Aleutian Islands (4A): 1.66 (+17.73 percent) Aleutian Islands (4B):1.23 (+11.82 percent) Bering Sea (4CDE): 1.67 (-3.47 percent). A total of 6.29 million pounds is allowed to be taken as “non-targeted discard mortality” from all regions combined. The halibut fishery also was extended by one month and will run from March 6 to Dec. 7. Kodiak launches first oyster crop A Kodiak entrepreneur is introducing his first batch of oysters in time for Super Bowl slurping. Erik O’Brien, who grew up in Kodiak and has fished his family salmon setnet sites his whole life at Larsen Bay, has proven it’s a pearl of a place that is perfect for oyster-growing. His oyster farm is the fruition of a plan he put in place nearly a decade ago. “Larsen Bay might have some of the best growing waters we’ve seen in Alaska,” he said. “It is a relatively large body of water with an extremely narrow opening, so it’s very protected in a fjord. It warms up and it’s got our big Kodiak tides, so there’s a lot of tidal flow. And it faces Southwest Alaska, which is a whole bunch of wind with a lot of energy and stirring up of nutrients. That really seems to promote the growth.” The superb growing conditions have O’Brien’s oysters reaching market size in little over two years compared to the more typical four or five years. He also credits his floating culture system that will eventually span 20 acres. “There are black bags tied together on a long line with floats on one end of the bags and they float in four inches of water. And that has some other benefits, because my oysters are really clean as they’re on the top of the water,” he said. “Most of the nutrients in the water column are on the top where the sun is. And on top of that, the black bags suck up some extra solar heat. There’s a belief that those bags and that solar heat have led to the more rapid growth. They grow much faster than I anticipated.” Right now, O’Brien is only using about a half-acre site which should yield 150,000 oysters by September. His goal is to double production each year. “My farm layout is long and skinny, so I can put eight 600-foot shackles in one line, and the site is 160 feet wide and I can put 8 strings 15 feet apart, so I can have 11 strings. Each string can hold about 500,000 full grown oysters. So I could eventually have 5.5 million full-grown oysters allowing me to sell about 2 million oysters per year,” he added. The fledgling oyster farm already has put two people to work, which is another of O’Brien’s objectives. “Part of the goal was to create a sustainable business and bring jobs and opportunity back to our community,” he said. “In a very small way that has started, and I’m hoping that it will continue and I’m able to provide new opportunities for folks who want to live in Larson Bay full time.” Meanwhile, local oyster orders already are flooding into Island Seafoods, Kodiak’s retail store and custom processing outlet, a division of Pacific Seafoods. “I’m thrilled to be featuring Kodiak oysters,” said Ian Whiddon, store manager. “I’ve been selling live shellfish here at Island Seafoods for over 20 years, and I’ve always sourced them from other parts of the state or from the Pacific Northwest. So I’m really thrilled to be featuring local oysters.” Whiddon said they they are some of the best he’s ever tasted and he hopes Island Seafoods can soon help distribute O’Brien’s Kodiak oysters throughout Alaska and the Lower 48. Board of Fisheries back up Board of Fisheries meetings focused on Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish have been postponed from this spring to the fall. The board voted on the delay due to COVID-19 virus concerns at a Jan. 25 virtual meeting. “I’m just basing on the most logical assumption that this year, this spring anyway, is pretty much toast as far as how this COVID thing is going up and down. One day it’s good and the next day it’s not. It would be irresponsible to try and continue these meetings like we had planned,” said John Jensen of Petersburg, the only board member from a coastal community. The board focus on regional issues every three years for commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries. The current lineup includes 79 proposals for Prince William Sound, 155 for Southeast and 42 for statewide shellfish issues. The delay means back-to-back meetings for those regions this fall, possibly into next year, followed directly by fish issues for Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Arctic/Yukon/Kuskokwim regions. No dates have been set yet for either round of meetings. The shuffle could cost the Alaska Department of Fish and Game an extra, unbudgeted $250,000. That would require a supplemental appropriation from the Legislature, said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. “I’m supportive of trying to do this, but I just want you to know at the end of the day that there’s going to be potentially some impact if we can’t get that money through the Legislature. And there is going to be some impact to board meetings as a result of divisional support attending those meetings. But again, we’ll do our best to try and power through that,” he said. Meanwhile, the status of unconfirmed Board of Fisheries members is still being litigated. They were not vetted or confirmed by state lawmakers due to COVID-19 cutting into the legislative session. Gov. Mike Dunleavy insists his appointees can remain, but Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said not so fast. “Currently we have four sitting members, three new members and one old member, that have not been confirmed and they are making decisions and some of them just don’t have the experience. And they have the opportunity to make monumental decisions affecting people’s livelihoods,” Stutes said during a United Fishermen of Alaska webinar. Stutes has filed House Bill 28 that would allow board members to participate but not vote until they are confirmed in a joint session, except under unusual circumstances. Stutes and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said they feel strongly that the board appointees will go through a joint legislative hearing process. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ‘Blue Economy’ takes next steps; electric boat options grow

New ocean-related jobs, investments and opportunities will be seeded by an ambitious Blue Pipeline Venture Studio that connects marine business entrepreneurs with the technology, contacts and finances they need to grow. “The state’s blue economy includes anything that takes place on the water, most prominently the seafood industry, along with marine recreation, maritime research, waterborne transportation and much more,” said Garrett Evridge, a well-known fisheries economist previously with the McDowell Group and new research director for the Venture Studio. “There is significant opportunity to grow the Alaskan ocean economy,” he added. That might come from refinement of existing industries, getting more value out of salmon, for example, or support for new industries like growing seaweeds, or just being prepared for opportunities that aren’t even on the radar. Like what’s going to happen in 10, 20 or 30 years. “What can we do now to position ourselves for success? We have a lot of challenges and opportunities that we know are headed our way, like climate change and ocean acidification. What’s our plan for those? It’s part of growing a culture that can embrace change and identify opportunities.” The nonprofit Venture Studio is the first statewide program of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association’s Ocean Cluster that launched in 2017. It is modeled after a venture led by Iceland in 2011 that now includes over 50 clusters around the world. Last fall, the BSFA received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration with matching funds to help jump start ocean businesses and pump $1.2 million into Alaska’s ocean economy. Grant partners include the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Arctic Domain Awareness Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Moonbeam Exchange, AKWA-DC, and the Pacific North West Economic Region. Evridge said many people have great business ideas but they don’t have the time or know where to start. The Venture Studio will serve as a sort of “matchmaker” to connect them with capital, expertise and connections to get off the ground. “Some of the first things we will do is focus on all of the previous research that is available and then try to identify the roadblocks of why this specific industry has not grown,” he said. “One reason that I came aboard is the opportunity to focus on what other industries have learned that is applicable to us. The fruit industry, for example, has some pretty strong parallels with seafood processing with the picking and identification and inspection of apples. There are applications in the agriculture realm that are very relevant. But so many entrepreneurs or existing stakeholders don’t have the opportunity to focus on those things.” Evridge said his team, which includes Taylor Holshouser as director of business development, will focus most of this year on developing a robust Venture Studio and building a platform capable of delivering jobs, investment, and opportunities across Alaska. On a related note, NOAA Fisheries last week announced its “Blue Economy Strategic Plan” that aims to, among other things, “collaborate with partners to support the growth of American business and entrepreneurship that contributes to the development and sustainability of the blue economy across the U.S. that will help accelerate the nation’s economic recovery.” The agency added: “The United States is an ocean nation, and our future prosperity and security depend upon the understanding, health, and sustainable use of our Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes.” NOAA said it intends to expand and strengthen the Blue Economy effort by leading agency-wide initiatives in marine transportation, ocean exploration, seafood competitiveness, tourism and recreation, coastal resilience, aquaculture and developing an American Seafood Campaign, to name but a few. Plug in to silence and savings No engine noise…no fuel slicks or emissions. Would an electric boat be suitable for your marine business? Newer battery banks and hybrid options make it ideal for several uses and an Alaska resource can answer all your questions. “We’re more focused on low speed vessels that know where they are going every day and pretty much have the same routine. Some of the uses would be harbor port operations, work boats, tourism, recreation or rentals. And then, of course, fishing, especially mariculture,” said Bob Varness of Juneau who operates Tongass Rain Electric Cruise LLC and has been doing gas to all-electric or hybrid boat conversions since 2014. “Why wouldn’t you want to harvest your product with no oil sheen on the water? It only makes sense to have good clean water when you’re pulling in your kelp or oysters or whatever you do. And trollers or gillnetters plugging along at two to three knots; that’s an ideal application for electric motors.” Varness has recently partnered with builders and suppliers to bring more earth-friendly electric vessels to Alaskans. “We’re identifying ideal areas of operation, and then introducing electric boat alternatives to operators and providing them with information and education,” he said. “Then we’ll commence with design and identify the description of operation, the budget, the performance and the options to a supplier. At that point, the client, whether it be a fisherman or a tour operator or harbor administrator, can get a good idea if an electric vessel will work for them.” It is newer and smaller, high energy lithium ion batteries that make it feasible. Studies show they can reduce vessel operating expenses by 75 percent. “Some of the other benefits are you have no warmup or idle time, you hop in the boat and push a button and off you go. You have increased reliability, reduced maintenance, and quieter operations which results in less crew and passenger fatigue,” Varness said. “If you don’t have access to a plug in for recharging, you can go with a hybrid option and recharge your batteries while you’re underway.” There is one hybrid diesel/electric fishing boat in Alaska: the Sunbeam owned by Fabian Grutter who longlines and gillnets out of Sitka. Its diesel engine can charge the 70-kilowatt battery bank with an alternator in four to five hours of cruising “and then you shut the diesel off,” he told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. Electric boats also are “submarine silent,” Varness added. That could effectively remove the boat sound signatures from internal combustion engines that attract whales to longline hooks loaded with black cod. “Between an electric motor and some nice black cod traps, the whales wouldn’t even know you were coming,” he said with a laugh. Each vessel is unique and it is not “one size fits all,” Varness said. “It can be confusing and people may not know where to go,” he added. “And that’s our purpose: to help and facilitate with those transitions. If you want us to go ahead, we can put together a nice electric vessel for you based on your operation and your budget and deliver it to you.” Of note: Washington State is converting its three largest ferries to hybrid drives to reduce greenhouse gas outputs, and there are over 100 battery-operated ferries so far worldwide. Seafood without the sea San Diego startup BlueNalu, which is growing fish fillets directly from fish cells, has raised $60 million in financing to build a pilot factory and launch its seafood in restaurants. The three-year-old company plans to grow up to eight species of seafood, with mahi-mahi and bluefin tuna as its first products. Depending on federal approval, BlueNalu could roll out its first lab grown fish this year. Oily plastics The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 would, among other things, hold corporations accountable for wasteful products, phase out single use plastics, reduce wasteful packaging and reform the nation’s waste and recycling systems. 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. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Survey reveals COVID-19 impacts for fishermen in 2020

The single biggest hit to fishermen from the COVID-19 virus is reduced dock prices, according to Alaska and West Coast harvesters, and 98 percent said their businesses have been badly bashed by the pandemic. That’s based on survey results compiled by Ocean Strategies, a public relations firm that focuses on fisheries that helped profile the Pacific region for a larger federal study. Nearly 400 fishermen responded to the short, confidential survey launched last November, said senior consultant Hannah Heimbuch of Kodiak. “NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) uses any information they collect on economics to report to Congress on how the industry is being impacted, the major trends they are seeing, and then that informs the decisions that Congress or other government agencies might make in response to those trends,” she said. In the survey, 82 percent said fishing is their primary source of income and 91 percent said their revenues have decreased by 15 percent to 100 percent since January 2020. A whopping 70 percent said they stopped fishing last year; 65 percent stopped for three months or less. Just 18 percent reported being back to full speed of fishing activity compared to 2019, and 63 percent said they did not see any change in the number of crew they employed. The Alaska/West Coast responses are included in a comprehensive report released last week titled Updated Impact Assessment of the COVID-19 Crisis on the U.S. Commercial Seafood and Recreational For-Hire/Charter Industries January-July 2020 intended to help businesses and communities “assess losses and inform long-term resilience strategies.” The easy to read report states that global COVID-19 protective measures that began in March contributed to an “almost-immediate” impact on seafood sales. The year started strongly with a 3 percent increase in fish landing revenues; however, they declined each month showing a 19 percent decrease in March to a 45 percent decrease by July. “This translates to a 29 percent decrease (in revenues) across those 7 months, as compared to 5-year averages and adjusted for inflation,” the report said. The impacts also are broken out by U.S. regions. A six-page snapshot for Alaska shows that total landings from January through August 2020 were 15 percent below 2019 levels, a drop of 695 million pounds from 4.74 billion pounds to 4.03 billion pounds. The reductions were due to a 71 percent decline in harvest volume for herring, 45 percent for salmon, a decline of 18 percent for halibut, and 29 percent for Pacific cod compared to 2019 levels. In contrast, crab, flatfish and rockfish harvests were up 3 percent, 4 percent, and 11 percent, respectively, compared with the 2015-19 period. The combination of lower catches and decreased fish prices from January through August 2020 pushed down the value of Alaska’s catches by 30 percent from 2019 levels (a decline of $436 million, from $1.48 billion to $1.04 billion). The largest decreases in value from 2019 included a 67 percent drop for herring, a 61 percent reduction in salmon, a 37 percent drop in halibut revenues, down 30 percent for cod, and a 17 percent decrease in the value of flatfish. The two bright spots compared with the five year baseline were a 17 percent increase in crab revenues and a 6 percent increase for rockfish. For the sports charter sector, “reports from the field suggest fishing was “well below normal levels” throughout Alaska, with some in industry estimating between 30-50 percent losses for the season.” “In the coming months and years, scientists and economists will work to obtain a more complete picture of COVID-19’s impact on U.S. seafood and the Blue Economy,” said NOAA Fisheries Administrator Chris Oliver. “It is our hope that this initial analysis provides a foundation that the industry researchers and planners can draw upon as they plan for the future.” Hatchery hit A push to close the Tutka Bay Hatchery in Kachemak Bay has drawn the ire of fishermen and residents far beyond that region. It is one of four hatcheries operated by the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, which produces primarily sockeye and pink salmon to enhance commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries. The draft of a review of the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park Management Plan finds that the Tutka Bay Hatchery, which has been in operation since the late 1970s, is an “incompatible use” in the park. “The plan addresses appropriate management for state parks. We understand the financial concerns, but there are just several legal concerns that exist,” said Monica Alvarez with the state Department of Natural Resources at a public hearing this past December. “The fact that it’s kind of authorized through a 20-year operating agreement; that is very long term, and the only thing that can be authorized in state parks are short term permits. So a 20-year term is a concern. The fact that the hatchery is operated primarily under cost-recovery is a concern,” Alvarez told KBBI in Homer. The fact that the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation within DNR will be tasked with adopting a new plan has raised eyebrows. Ricky Gease, appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy as head of Alaska State Parks, is a former longtime executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and advocated strongly for the removal of the region’s hatcheries, including Tutka Bay. “Concerns related to the hatchery have nothing to do with Ricky Gease,” Alvarez insisted. “They’re largely legal in nature. They’re concerns we’ve had for quite some time. Additionally, Ricky Gease is kind of recused from this process. And so he has not been part of any of the meetings associated with this management plan. He really has nothing to do with this effort.” However, Gease’s comments and testimony as KRSA director were incorporated into the new draft plan, KBBI pointed out. State figures show that about 42,000 hatchery-produced salmon were caught in the Cook Inlet commercial fisheries in 2019, worth an estimated $331,000 to fishermen, or 1.6 percent of the total dockside value for the region. According to the group Salmon Hatcheries for Alaska, closure of the Tutka Bay hatchery would eliminate 25 jobs, close the popular China Poot dipnet fishery, end sockeye stocking at several locations and starve both sockeye and pink salmon fisheries from Kachemak Bay to Resurrection Bay. Meanwhile, Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, has pre-filed a House Bill 52 that would declare the Tutka Bay hatchery an allowed activity within the state park. At a webinar hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska, Vance said she plans to introduce broader language that will protect hatcheries in general to make them compatible on state lands and ensure that Alaska’s hatcheries “will not be subject to political pressures or whims through every administration.” Public comments on the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park Management Plan were accepted through Jan. 22. Find comment links at Salmon Hatcheries for Alaska and at United Fishermen of Alaska. Fishing updates Jan. 1 saw the start of cod and other groundfish fisheries and the nation’s biggest catch – Alaska pollock – got underway on Jan. 20. More than 3 billion pounds of pollock will come out of the Bering Sea. Gulf fishermen, however, have chosen to delay their pollock start to Feb. 4 in hopes of hauling in higher-quality, schooled up fish. That will add another 250 million pounds to Alaska’s pollock harvest. A pollock fishery also opened at Prince William Sound on Jan. 20 with a nearly 5-million pound harvest. Trollers at Southeast are still fishing for Chinook salmon. That winter fishery ends on March 15. Divers are still tapping on a 1.7 million-pound sea cucumber harvest; divers also continue fishing for over half a million pounds of giant geoduck clams. A ling cod fishery also is underway in the Panhandle with an 856,000-pound catch limit. Kodiak divers are still going down for sea cucumbers with a 130,000-pound harvest limit. Crabbing continues in the Bering Sea for snow crab (40.5 million pounds), bairdi Tanners (2.1 million pounds) and golden king crab (6 million pounds). Looking ahead: fisheries for golden king crab and Tanners will open in Southeast Alaska in mid-February. At Sitka Sound, a spring roe herring harvest of 33,304 tons is projected although managers expect the catch will not top 20,000 tons. At Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay the catch in May is pegged at a whopping 42,639 tons. It remains to be seen if there will be any buyers for a roe product that has lost favor by Alaska’s single customer, Japan. The International Pacific Halibut Commission’s online annual meeting is set for the week of Jan. 25. A virtual Alaska Marine Science Symposium takes place on Jan. 26-28. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will hold its meetings online from Feb. 1-12. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Study takes aim at magnetic fields, salmon returns

Is it a coincidence that one of the world’s largest mineral deposits is located near the world’s largest sockeye salmon spawning grounds at Bristol Bay? And if the likes of a Pebble mine removed the bulk of those deep deposits that also create the world’s magnetic field, could it disrupt the salmon’s ability to find their way home? A study, funded by Arron Kallenberg of Homer, founder/CEO of Wild Alaskan Company and a third generation Bristol Bay fisherman, aims to find out. “It’s not even been 10 years since we’ve discovered that salmon, sea turtles and other marine species are using the Earth’s magnetic field as a way to know where they are and to make important navigation decisions. But what is the magnetic environment that they need to thrive, and what might humans be doing that might keep them from thriving,” said Dr. Nathan Putman, a senior scientist at Texas-based LGL Ecological Research Associates and an expert on animals’ use of magnetics fields in migration who is leading the study. “The salmon at Bristol Bay are tuned into thousands of years of experience,” Putman said. “Might removing magnetic minerals alter the magnetic landscape they have experienced, and to what extent?” The combinations of magnetic field strength and angles give the salmon a sense of where they are, he explained. “For instance, if a fish has left its river and finds itself in a stronger magnetic field than when it departed, it’s got a good chance of being further north of the river. And if it finds itself in a weaker magnetic field, it has a good chance of being further south. It can use that information to decide which way it should go, depending on whether it’s heading out to its foraging grounds, or if it’s matured and it’s time to head back home.” Putman’s earlier studies on pinks revealed that salmon have multi-purpose navigational tools. “The handy thing about the magnetic field is that it’s both a compass and a map. A compass by itself only gives you a direction. The Earth’s magnetic field gives you that direction, but for salmon it also gives a sense of where in the Bering Sea or the Gulf of Alaska they are. It’s sort of part compass, part GPS,” he explained. Putman said it is easy to manipulate magnetic environments in the lab. “We call them magnetic displacement experiments,” he said. “And they perform quite well. The salmon seem to know how to orient their movements when they grow up in a pristine magnetic rearing environment. But if you add something as simple as a nearby iron pipe, it distorts the field. Then you have the same family of fish, the same setup, the same sort of behavioral assays and they don’t appear capable of using the magnetic field to make navigation decisions.” For the Bristol Bay project Putman is using a high-resolution magnetic model for 304,000 latitude/longitude points over the past 20 years, looking at the impact of mining activity on fluctuations in local geomagnetic fields. By comparing the rate of change in the geomagnetic field near mining sites to baseline background variability, he can identify potential man-made impacts of mineral extraction on field variations. “I think it really does put some burden back on us as humans to ask how we are altering the magnetic environment around salmon, whether it’s from mineral extraction or electric cables running across or through streams. How might we be presenting salmon or other species with challenges from how we’re manipulating their habitats. That’s where we’re going with this project.” Putman’s results should be known by this summer when the sockeye run is returning to Bristol Bay. Fishing facts Want to know where most fishermen live in Alaska? Or where most Alaska fishing boats are home ported? United Fishermen of Alaska has just released its updated Fishing Facts for every region of Alaska, plus the West Coast. The facts are updated through 2018, the most complete year available. At a glance, they show that nearly 8,700 permit holders fished in 2018, or which 6,055 were Alaska residents. More than 21,341 crew licenses were purchased, split almost evenly between residents and non-residents. Alaska’s seafood industry employed nearly 59,000 direct jobs, more than any other private sector. More than $172 million in fishing taxes were collected, of which $73 million went to state coffers and $51 million to local governments. Homer is home to 615 fishing boats and nearly 20 percent of its population fishes, earning $69 million at the docks in 2018. A total of 636 vessels call Kodiak Island home with 1,074 resident fishermen, or 17.3 percent of the population, who earned $105 million. Kodiak lays claim to 15 processing facilities, from ‘mom and pops’ to majors. At Petersburg, nearly 24 percent of the population fishes for a living on 620 home-ported boats. Their income was pegged at $50.5 million. Only nine permit holders fished out of Dutch Harbor/Unalaska but its 8 big processing plants helped generate $8.2 million in fishery taxes, both to the region and the state. Just more than 6,000 Washington residents plus crew fished in Alaska in 2018. Of the total harvest of 5.7 billion pounds, 4 billion pounds was taken by Washington residents. Of the dockside value of $1.94 billion, Washingtonians pocketed $900 million. The Fishing Facts include regional fishing, processing jobs and wages, fishery tax revenues and legislative districts. Big fish moves The 30 coastal communities that comprise the Coastal Villages Region Fund and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. have bought out Seattle-based Mariner Companies that is majority-owned by Kevin Kaldestad and Gordon Kristjanson. The purchase comes with 3 percent of the Bering Sea snow crab and red king crab quota, along with 7 crab vessels. In a statement, the new company said it will sell the crab quota, valued at $35 million, to the communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Bristol Bay regions and provide economic support through fishing operations. Also, Peter Pan Seafoods, announced it is now a U.S.-owned, vertically integrated seafood processor. The company was owned since 1950 by Maruha Nichiro of Japan. The new ownership group includes Rodger May of Northwest Fish Company, the Na’-Nuk Investment Fund managed by McKinley Capital, and the RRG Global Partners Fund. New Peter Pan will continue to operate facilities in Dillingham, King Cove, Port Moller, and Valdez with headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. Fish trade tips Fishermen have until Jan. 15 to apply for federal funds to take the sting out of market hits from trade tariffs. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture will distribute a total of $530 million to fishermen based on their catches in 2019 for 19 species under the Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP). Damages to fishermen are calculated as the difference with trade tariffs and the baseline without it. For cod, that adds up to an extra 14-cents a pound. Salmon fishermen get an extra 19 cents per pound. Other Alaska species include Dungeness crab, king crab, snow crab and Tanners, geoduck clams, sablefish, herring, pollock, flounders, mackerel, perch and turbot. Fisherman must fill out form found at and at USDA Farm Service Agencies. There are three Alaska agency locations at Homer, Kenai and Palmer. Joint Fish and Game meeting on COVID-19 questions The Alaska Board of Fisheries and Board of Game will convene a web conference on Jan. 19 to discuss current COVID-19 conditions and its impacts on upcoming meetings. Tentative topics include conducting some or all of the meetings via the web, or if meetings should be postponed until the 2021-22 meeting cycle and what the impacts might be. This is a non-regulatory meeting and no testimony will be taken. Written comments may be submitted through Jan. 15; previously submitted comments will be included and need not be resubmitted. Comments can be or emailed to [email protected]/ The meeting will be live streamed at the Joint Board’s website. Questions? Contact the Boards Support Section at (907) 465-4110. Buts up Halibut catch limits for 2021 will be revealed on Jan. 29, the last day of the International Pacific Halibut Meetings that will convene virtually starting on Jan. 25. A preliminary review of the 2020 fishery shows a total catch for the U.S. and British Columbia at 35.7 million pounds, down 11 percent from 2019. Sixty-three percent was taken in commercial fisheries (22.3 million pounds). Alaska fishermen took nearly 16 million pounds, 7 percent below the catch limit. Recreational fisheries took 17 percent (6 million pounds); 3 percent went to both subsistence and surveys/research (one million pounds each). More than 5 million pounds of halibut was taken as bycatch in other fisheries. Homer got the biggest chunk of the Pacific halibut landings at 18 percent (3 million pounds), followed by Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Juneau at 1.3 million pounds narrowly outpaced Sitka for total commercial halibut landings. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fish picks and pans for 2020

This year marks the 30th year that the weekly Fish Factor column has appeared in newspapers across Alaska and nationally. Every year it features “picks and pans” for Alaska’s seafood industry — a no-holds-barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst fishing highlights, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year. Here are the choices for 2020, in no particular order: Best little known fish fact: Alaska’s commercial fisheries division also pays for the management of subsistence and personal use fisheries. Biggest fishing tragedy: The loss of five fishermen aboard the Scandies Rose that sank southwest of Kodiak. Biggest new business potential: Mariculture of seaweeds and shellfish Ballsiest fish move: Fishermen in Quinhagak formed a cooperative of 70 harvesters to revitalize commercial salmon fishing in Kuskokwim Bay, including members from Goodnews Bay, Platinum and Eek. It’s the first fishery since 2016 when the region’s “economic development” group abruptly pulled the plug on buying local fish. Biggest fish challenge: Getting whaled. Many fishermen say they can lose up to 75 percent of their pricey sablefish catches when whales strip their lines. Best fish invention: Slinky pots. Lightweight, collapsible, inexpensive fishing pots that prevent getting whaled. The new gear is especially beneficial for smaller boats that can’t accommodate the hydraulics and 300 rigid metal pots on deck. Biggest unexpected fish boost: As restaurants closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people turned to buying seafood to cook at home than ever before because of its health benefits. Best fish straight talker: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak Best fish knowledge builders: Alaska Sea Grant Best fish feeder: Sea Share, with more than 220 million fish servings to U.S. food banks since 1994 and counting. Trickiest fishing conundrum: Balancing sea otters versus crab and other shellfish fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Saddest fish story: The loss of young fishermen Sig and Helen Decker of Wrangell in a car crash. Biggest fish missed opportunity: Wasting most of Alaska’s annual three billion pounds of fish skins, heads, etc. that could be used in nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and more. Such byproducts could be worth $700 million or more to Alaska each year. Cod skins produce about 11 percent collagen, nearly 20 percent from salmon skins. The marine collagen market is pegged at nearly $1 billion by 2023. Most earth-friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into oils and meals instead of grinding and dumping them, as in most Alaska fishing towns. Best Alaska ocean watchers: Alaska Ocean Observing System. Sea ice, water temperatures, ocean acidification levels, AOOS tracks it all. Best daily fish news sites:, Undercurrent News, SeafoodSource Best healthy fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, SalmonState, Alaska Marine Conservation Council Best fish mainstream pushers: Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers on its mission to make wild Alaska pollock the world’s favorite whitefish. Biggest fish budget suck: Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Fairbanks. How much budget would be saved if scientists/students didn’t have to travel to reach the sea life they are studying? Why are those sites located so far away? “It’s the way it has always been.” Best go to bat for their fishery: Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, The fishermen-funded/operated group pays a 1 percent tax on their catches. They can use the money in any way they choose to enhance/protect/promote their fishery. The Cordova/Prince William Sound RSDA is the only other region to take advantage of this opportunity sanctioned by the state in 2005. Biggest fish broadsides: Ongoing trade tariffs with China and now, the European Union Worst fish inequity: The U.S. buying millions of pound of seafood from Russia since 2014 while Russia refuses to buy any U.S. seafood. Best eco-friendly fish advocate: Net Your Problem by Nicole Baker. One woman’s quest to mobilize Alaska to remove old fishing nets, lines and gear has expanded from Dutch Harbor to Southeast and most places in between. The plastic gear is recycled into new products from sunglasses to snowboards. Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, aka “Frankenfish.” Best Alaska fish writers: Sarah Lapidus, Kodiak Daily Mirror; Elizabeth Earl, Alaska Journal of Commerce; Margie Bauman, Cordova Times, Fishermen’s News Worst fish travesty: Cuts to commercial and sport halibut catches while millions of pounds get dumped as bycatch in trawl fisheries. Alaska can’t lay claim to having the “world’s best managed fisheries” until it gets its bycatch act in order. Best fish assists: Biologists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Best building future fishermen: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Deckhand apprenticeships, fishing loan payback programs for new entrants based on catches are just a few of ALFA-spawned programs. Fishing town that celebrates its fishing industry the most: Sitka Fishing town that celebrates its fishing industry the least: Kodiak Best fish boosters: Alaska’s salmon hatcheries. Worst fish slap in the face: The state opting to close salmon fishing in federal waters of Cook Inlet. Alaska co-manages several fisheries with the feds but won’t in the Inlet? Biggest Alaska fish beneficiary: Washington State. Seattle is homeport to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their livings in Alaska. Worst fish flim-flam: The Pebble Partnership for its deceit to Alaskans, investors, Congress about the scope of its mining plans. Biggest fish sigh of relief: The Pebble mine permit being denied by the Army Corps of Engineers. Baddest fish idea: Opening the Tongass National Forest to more roads and development. The Tongass produces 80 percent of the salmon caught in Southeast Alaska. Biggest fish fake: Plant-based seafoods such as “vegan shrimp” and “Toona.” Does fish best with least: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI promotes Alaska seafood in the U.S. and around the world with zero backing from the state. Norway, for example, backs its seafood marketing with more than $50 million from a small tax on exports. Biggest fish stiff: Alaska processors paying millions in out of pocket expenses for COVID-19 quarantines in hotels, chartering planes, PPE, testing and other protections and getting no paybacks from federal relief funds. Biggest fish slap: Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s selection of Board of Fisheries reps who live far inland, including a Pebble mine director and one who has zero knowledge about commercial fisheries. Dunleavy hopes to ram them through with no legislative or public input. Best fish lifesavers: Alaska Marine Safety Education Association Most disliked fish moniker: The term ‘fisher’ in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to be gender neutral. Best new buy/sell fish better: The Seafood Auction based in Kenai gives fishermen, buyers and hatcheries an easier way to do business online from a single location. Worst fish crash: Collapse of the Gulf of Alaska cod fishery due to four years of warm waters that wiped out several years classes. The stock appears to be making a slow comeback. Best fish boost for babies: New federal dietary guidelines for the first time recommend that babies be introduced to seafood starting at six months because of the health benefits. Pregnant women also are strongly encouraged to eat more fish to enhance their baby’s brain and eye development. Biggest fish failure: U.S. baby food makers who provide ZERO seafood offerings. Best fish entrepreneurs: Zoi Maroudas of Bambino’s Baby Food (see above) – frozen portions of Hali-Halibut, Salmon Bisque, Sockeye Salmon Strips; Arron Kallenberg of Wild Alaskan Company. More than 140,000 members are serviced from fulfillment centers across the US. Most inexcusable fish gaffe: “Official” trade data from the U.S. Trade Representative that lists “petroleum and coal” as Alaska’s top export, although seafood has been tops for decades. Alaska’s “other top manufacturing exports” are listed as transportation equipment, computer and electronic products and machinery. Top agricultural products listed are plant and livestock products, feeds and other grains, beef and veal. Who knew?! Biggest fish story: for 2020 Alaska fishermen, processors, managers and communities pulled off a successful salmon season along with other fisheries amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ComFish Division spared from cuts in latest budget

As Alaska faces its toughest budget squeeze ever, the state’s commercial fisheries are set to get a bit of a breather. But it is due more to fund swapping than lawmakers’ largess. For the Commercial Fisheries Division, the largest within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget released by Gov. Mike Dunleavy reflects a slight increase to $72.8 million, compared to nearly $68 million last year. “I think we did really well this year,” said Commercial Fisheries Division Director Sam Rabung, speaking last week at a United Fishermen of Alaska webinar. “Where we’re at right now, the legislature actually restored many of the cuts that we sustained in FY20 and the governor didn’t veto all of them so we got some funds back in FY21.” “In a nutshell, we are being reduced $783,500 in general funds but to offset that, we are being granted $855,000 in increased authority for using what we call GFP, our general fund program receipts from commercial crew licenses,” he added. “We’ve been collecting more revenue from crew licenses every year than we have authority to use. It’s kind of like creating a piggy bank and it keeps building and that money rolls forward. We’re going to be able to utilize those funds now in lieu of general funds. So it’s pretty much a wash.” Rabung agreed with Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, that the comfish budget still includes big reductions that were made in prior years. “We’ve reduced our budget by around 45 percent of operational funding in the last six years or so. We were cut pretty harshly for several years, and now it’s kind of flattened out,” Rabung said. “I think what’s apparent is there’s not much left that has zero impact on commercial fisheries. So, when you talk about cutting the budget to the bone, we’re at the bone and our hope now is that we’ll be able to stay status quo and tread water and keep things where we can continue to manage for sustained yield.” There appears to be a shift over the last two years, Rabung said, and the Dunleavy administration now recognizes that “commercial fishing more than pays its own way.” “The revenue that comes into the general fund from commercial fishing activity is considerably more than the Commercial Fisheries Division draws back out to fund our operations. That was not apparent to this administration and many others in the past when they came in, but they get it now,” he said. “I think the next layer of that message is that not only does commercial fishing pay for its own self, it also pays for management of subsistence fisheries although we generate no revenue from those fisheries,” Rabung explained. “We also manage personal use fisheries in the state. Ironically, in order to participate in a personal use fishery, you have to buy a sport fishing license. So the Sport Fish Division gets the revenue from that, although commercial fishing does the assessment and management for it. Commercial fishing as an industry supports an awful lot of other activities and may not get the credit they deserve for it.” “And for some reason, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission is also parked under our budget even though we have no involvement and we’re totally separate. In my opinion, they should be a whole separate entity,” Rabung added. (The CFEC issues permits and vessel licenses in both limited and unlimited fisheries, and provides due process hearings and appeals.) The Commercial Fisheries Division, which employs about 650 people across the state, also permits and oversees Alaska’s non-profit salmon hatcheries, the aquatic shellfish and seaweed farming programs and operates three laboratories that track fish genetics, pathology, and ages of fish species. The division manages some fisheries in federal waters under authority delegated by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. And because fish are migratory and cross jurisdictional boundaries, staff also are involved in the research and policy making activities of the Pacific Salmon Commission, the Joint Canadian-U.S. Yukon River Panel and several other interstate and international fisheries bodies. Holiday fish boosts Along with the passage of the Young Fishermen’s Development Act last week, the seafood industry also got other boosts from Congress on several fronts. A $900 billion COVID-19 relief package also was passed by lawmakers in Washington and when it is signed by President Donald Trump, $300 million is earmarked to assist the fishing industry. Seafood also was finally declared as an eligible use for USDA food purchases for its many feeding programs; additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program also was included. The Save our Seas Act 2.0 was passed which builds on actions signed into law in 2018 to address marine debris problems. The bipartisan law, spearheaded by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, is regarded as the most comprehensive ocean cleanup legislation ever to pass Congress, and calls for global engagement to prevent plastic pollution. Save Our Seas will strengthen the U.S. response with a Marine Debris Foundation and a “genius prize” for innovation and new research. It also aims to enhance global engagement by formalizing U.S. policy on international cooperation and improving U.S. infrastructure to prevent marine debris through new studies of waste management and mitigation. The bill also proposes many efforts to improve U.S. waste management systems, particularly recycling infrastructure. For example, it creates a loan program for states to support trash wheel and litter trap technologies. Sullivan said in a statement that he already is looking to a third bill that would focus on how China processes U.S. recyclables. Finally, Democrats in Congress provided a first peek at the Magnuson-Stevens Act legislation they plan to introduce early next year. The MSA provides the “rules of the road” for U.S. fishery management and conservation. The reauthorized bill would maintain the eight regional fishery councils but require members to receive training on climate change and consider climate science in deliberations. Undercurrent News reports the bill also seeks to improve disaster relief programs, create a working waterfront grant program and increase support for seafood marketing, including re-establishing the National Seafood Council. It also would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NOAA to work together to increase seafood industry participation in the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Fish broth is a superfood Fish byproducts are rapidly growing in popularity and broths made from bones and other fish parts are becoming a rage among health enthusiasts all over the world. Bone broths are loaded with vital nutrients like calcium, iodine, and minerals and have been found to help support thyroid health. Its natural electrolytes boost muscle repair after workouts, but a top benefit is the benefits derived from collagen. “Collagen is good for your skin, your hair and bones. Some people claim that it restores gut health. Broth is a nutrient dense food that isn’t common in the standard American diet anymore,” said Randy Hartnell, founder and president of Vital Choice, a web-based seafood company. He said fish broth was common in our ancestral diet and is coming back due to trends favoring more healthy eating. “It’s sort of following the Paleo nutrition rage which has really been growing in recent years. We have seen many bone broth companies, but fish broths are not common yet so we are pleased to be able to offer it our customers,” Hartnell said. A handful of Alaska companies also are on the fish broth bandwagon. Rich Clarke, owner of Alaska Black Cod, makes his stock out of leftover sablefish carcasses. Ed’s Kasilof Seafoods features a halibut broth that was a winner at an Alaska Symphony of Seafoods competition. And Alaska Broth Company founder David Chessik hopes that one day his blend will be known as Alaska’s Coffee. Randy Hartnell pointed out another benefit to the growing popularity of fish broth: the reduction of fish waste. “The bones, carcasses and skins have always just been discarded,” he said. “This is a way to use some of those byproducts in a way that creates something that is so unique and healthy from sustainable fish from Alaska. It is another valuable aspect of this wonderful product.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Federal Pacific cod harvest to resume for Gulf in 2021

Alaska coastal communities will get a bit of an economic boost in 2021 from increased catches of Pacific cod. The stock, which crashed after a multi-year heat wave starting in 2014 wiped out several year classes, appears to be rebounding throughout the Gulf of Alaska. No cod fishery occurred at all this year in federally managed waters (from three to 200 miles out) where the bulk of the harvest is taken, and a catch of less than 6 million pounds was allowed in state managed waters (out to three miles). For 2021, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council set the federal cod catch at just more than 38 million pounds and nearly 11.7 million pounds for the state. While it’s a bump up, managers caution that the stock remains very low. “The state waters GHLs (guideline harvest levels) have gone up about two-and-a-half times since last year. While it’s good, we are still at a very low level of abundance, so that should be kept in mind,” said Nat Nichols, area groundfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. “The model for at least the last year or two have predicted that 2020 would be the low point in abundance and then, based on assumptions of average natural mortality and average recruitment, the stock would begin rebounding beginning in 2021. The model and other indices are still seeing rebounds in cod numbers, not large dramatic rebounds, but steady incremental growth, which is good,” he added. One reason cod numbers have ticked up, Nichols said, is because of the fishery reductions this year. “Just by the function of leaving many, many thousands of tons of cod in the water you get more cod in the assessment,” he said. The cod fishery in state waters is carved up based on the federal harvest guidelines for five regions: Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Chignik, Prince William Sound and the South Alaska Peninsula. That’s then broken up into shares for different fishing gears. “For the most part, it’s pot and jig gear with pot gear generally taking more. The one exception is Prince William Sound where they have a longline fishery,” Nichols said, adding that each fishery has opening dates ranging from Jan. 1 into March. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fishery managers are making efforts to streamline the process of registering for the cod fishery. Nichols encourages fishermen to contact the Kodiak ADFG office with any questions. (907-486-1840) In the Bering Sea, P-cod catches took a 21 percent cut to 245 million pounds. Likewise, the Bering Sea pollock catch for next year was reduced by 3.5 percent to three billion pounds. Gulf pollock catches were cut by 2.4 percent to about 250 million pounds.   More fishing updates for 2021 Other forecasts call for Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon harvest next summer to be “average” at 28 million fish. Kodiak’s pink catch is pegged at a strong 22.5 million and an “excellent” catch of nearly 13 million humpies is projected at the South Alaska Peninsula. Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is projected to produce a harvest of 47,348 tons, the highest since 1993. The fish are valued for their roe and it remains to be seen if there will be any buyers, as the product goes to a single market, Japan, where low interest has seen prices plummet to as little as $50 per ton. Meanwhile, trollers at Southeast Alaska are still out on the water pulling up chinook salmon. Beam trawl and pot shrimping continues at the Panhandle, along with diving for sea cucumbers (1.7 million pounds) and geoduck clams. Crabbing continues in the Bering Sea for golden kings and Tanners. Red king crab is about a wrap and fishing for snow crab will get underway next month. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set catch limits when it meets virtually the week of Jan. 25. The deadline for fishermen to apply for trade relief is extended to Jan. 15. That’s the program through USDA that pays extra poundage to make up for losses from ongoing trade disputes. More trade troubles More trade inequities will bite into Alaska salmon, crab and other seafood in the coming year. That’s alongside the ongoing 38 percent average tariff paid for most U.S. seafood exported to China. The newest hit is a 25 to 35 percent tariff imposed last month on $4 billion of U.S. goods, including salmon, that goes to the 27 countries that comprise the European Union. The dispute stems from a spat over U.S. subsidies being paid to Boeing and competing European Airbus aircraft. “It is going to have an effect on our ability to get wild salmon into the European Union. With that kind of tariff, it’s going to make it pretty darn tough,” said Allen Kimball, head of global and domestic sales for Trident Seafoods. In 2019, Alaska exported more than $30.4 million in frozen salmon fillets to the EU, said Dan Lesh, fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group. “Of that, $13.2 million went to the United Kingdom, which is withdrawing from the European Union and announced it will not include the punitive tariff,” Lesh said. “Smoked salmon exports also are subject to the additional tariff, but that is a minor export product to the EU27, $341,000 in 2019, he added. “Those are the only two Alaska seafood products subject to additional tariffs under this Boeing/Airbus dispute.” Also, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that its food embargo on U.S. goods will be extended through 2021, according to the Moscow Times. Russia stopped buying all foods from the U.S. and many other countries in 2014 over protests to its invasion of Ukraine. Since then, U.S. purchases of Russian seafood have continued to grow. In 2019, Russia exported more than 80 million pounds of seafood to the U.S. valued at nearly $700 million. Undercurrent News reports that is a 7.4 percent increase in volume and a nearly 20 percent increase in value over 2018. Most of the seafood is Russian-caught red king crab, snow crab and sockeye salmon. According to U.S. trade data, so far this year Russia has sent 1.3 million pounds of frozen red king crab to the U.S. valued at $268 million; 3.7 million pounds of frozen snow crab valued at more than $282 million; and more than 1 million pounds of sockeye salmon worth $3.4 million. All of the products enter the U.S. nearly duty free. Meanwhile, reports that Russian crabbers are upping the ante claiming they plan to catch almost 220 million pounds of mostly king and snow crab in 2021. By comparison, Alaska’s Bering Sea catch for golden and red king crab, Tanners and snow crab for the 2020/21 season totals less than 50 million pounds. Fish give-backs American Seafoods has donated nearly $2 million since 1997 to over 100 Western Alaska communities to “make sure they benefit from the industry in their backyard.” The company maintains a fleet of six vessels that fish primarily for Alaska Pollock in the Bering Sea and hake in the North Pacific. “It started because we recognize that our livelihoods and what the company is trying to do is really based on cooperation from the local Alaska communities. And this is about us supporting those communities that are helping us do what we do,” said Margery Schelling, vice president of marketing, strategy and innovation. “It can be for food and fresh produce for shelter residents, safety equipment, or starting a food bank. We did a supportive pet companion program for senior citizens and individuals living with disabilities, even playground equipment. It’s really a grassroots program across Western Alaska supporting the needs of the community, as are recommended by the community,” Shelling explained. Calls for donations go out twice a year that each total $45,000. “As responsible citizens, supporting the well-being of Alaskan communities is a way of giving back. It’s as simple as that,” said American Seafoods president Inge Andreassen. Another company, Alaskan Leader Fisheries, since 2009 has granted nearly $600,000 to nonprofit groups in Kodiak and Bristol Bay through its foundation. The company was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families who operate four freezer longliners, and was joined by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in 2007. Grant recipients have included schools and educational programs, food banks, shelters, libraries, youth sports programs, museums, and recycling efforts. “Our most important resource in rural Alaska is our people,” said Robin Samuelsen, CEO of BBEDC. “Many community efforts to provide the best possible opportunities for our families require financial support that is often difficult to find. These Alaskan Leader Foundation grants help provide the hope and community interaction necessary in facing the challenge of life in rural Alaska.” Closer to shore, Sitka-based Alaskans Own has distributed more than 533,000 donated seafood meals (302,000 pounds) to more than 100,000 needy families throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest this year and plans to continue doing so. The donation program, an offshoot of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was initially launched in March to address the sharp rise in food insecurity among local families due to the Covid pandemic. The need was increased when dismal salmon runs to many regions left family freezers empty. “We honestly didn’t intend to create a seafood donation program this year,” said Alaskans Own founder and ALFA director, Linda Behnken. “It just organically happened when we realized that many of our neighbors were struggling to feed their families nutritious protein and our local fishermen were struggling to get a fair price for their catch due to COVID-19.” The mix of frozen/portioned salmon, halibut, rockfish and more is donated by too many fishermen, processors, and suppliers to mention. Ditto the number of individuals, businesses and community partners who stepped up to assist with distribution logistics, including the Chignik Intertribal Coalition and the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska. Alaskans Own is continuing its donations into 2021 and hopes to expand to more Alaskan communities. To help sustain the program, it’s offering a special Holiday Gift Box featuring a variety of local Sitka products. Check it out at

FISH FACTOR: Wild Alaskan making major gains through digital

The Wild Alaskan Company based in Homer has taken “mission based” seafood e-commerce to a whole new level. While many Alaska fishermen and groups sell boxes of seafood directly to customers and can claim several hundred monthly customers, Wild Alaskan has notched more than 140,000 seafood regulars since 2018 and since COVID-19 hit, the company is adding 100 to 200 customers every day. The average order for their subscription service is $160 per month. Founder Arron Kallenberg calls it a “three generation overnight success,” referring back to 1926 when his grandfather moved from New Jersey to fish at Bristol Bay. “My dad grew up fishing with my grandfather, I grew up fishing with my father, but that being said, I was the nerdy kid that took his laptop out to sea in Bristol Bay,” Kallenberg said, adding that his grandfather, Robert, served on the Alaska territorial Board of Fisheries, as an adviser to the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission and wrote his Master’s thesis at Cornell University on conserving Bristol Bay’s red salmon fishery. Arron Kallenberg went on to work in the internet startup field for nearly two decades, mostly in New York City. A few years ago he chose to walk away and create a tech-enabled marketing and logistics company to sell Alaska seafood directly to subscribers. He assembled a team of data driven strategists and systems builders to create a company that now puts 40 people to work remotely across the U.S. “We’re a tech company that sells seafood, a digital fishmonger,” he said with a laugh. “We have the ability through social media and digital based, data driven advertising to attract members to the membership service. And we have an incredible amount of proprietary software that manages a very complex, nationwide frozen fulfillment network that allows us to ship fish across the country at very reasonable rates. “So it was those two aspects of the business that did give the company quite a bit of early success. And then recently we’ve sort of reached critical mass.” Wild Alaskan sources salmon, cod, halibut, pollock and more from large and small Alaska providers, and the mix of frozen portions in three boxed options is dictated by supply. The seafood is sent to fulfillment centers across the country, and a software network manages the inventory and orders to minimize both cost and shipping distance. The reduced shipping time also allows the company to use biodegradable packaging instead of Styrofoam. “Our software has some pretty sophisticated technology that will curate a box of fish for a member in one part of the country based on the availability of certain species inside the supply chain. But the flexibility that the software provides us allows us to decentralize this supply driven model in different regions. That’s something that’s pretty unique from an e-commerce perspective. Typically, e-commerce companies will have to maintain the same level of inventory across one or two facilities,” Kallenberg said. Reducing the carbon footprint from shipping is a primary goal of what Kallenberg calls his “mission based company.” “Our goal is to expand our warehouse network to the point where we can achieve one-day ground transportation to 99 percent of the country,” Kallenberg said, adding that Alaskan Wild plans to open a fulfillment center in every major metropolitan U.S. area. “Our mission is to accelerate humanity’s transition to sustainable food systems,” he said. “And I believe that Alaska can set an example globally. In order to do that, Wild Alaskan has to become a big business so that we can shift the consumption habits away from these unsustainable options into America’s own backyard. The carbon footprint implications of fish going round trip to another country and back, or farmed salmon coming in from another country are ridiculous,” he said. Kallenberg believes the U.S. has “unknowingly downgraded its seafood supply” by importing up to 90 percent of its seafood, and exporting most of its own to other countries. “We export the best and import the worst,” he said. Wild Alaskan Company intends to change that pattern. Young fishermen get federal nod U.S. fishermen will soon be eligible to receive training and financial benefits long enjoyed by farmers and ranchers. The Young Fishermen’s Development Act sailed through Congress last week with a simple voice vote because of bipartisan support, according to REP. Don Young’s office. Modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that can be traced back to 1862, the Act creates the first federal program dedicated to enabling future generations of fishermen. This bill directs the National Sea Grant office under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a program through the Commerce Department that provides for a competitive grants program for state, tribal, local, or regional networks or partnerships; a mentorship/apprenticeship program with older fishermen; financial support for training and education in sustainable fishing practices, marine stewardship, business and technical initiatives. “We are thrilled,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in response to the bill’s passage. ALFA was part of a national Fishing Communities Coalition which helped herd the Act through Congress over two years. “Alaska’s congressional delegation played the lead role in advancing this legislation, building bi-partisan support for an important industry and Alaska’s number one private sector employer,” Behnken added. “We are celebrating a brighter future for our industry and our young fishermen. Huge thanks to Senator Sullivan, Senator Murkowski, Congressman Young and their hard working staff!” The $2 million program will be paid out over six years and is funded by fishing fines; so in a way, fishermen are picking up the tab themselves. By comparison, mandatory federal backing for ranchers and farmers (including aquaculture) is $15 million for this fiscal year, $17.5 million for fiscal year 22 and $25 million for fiscal year 23. Southeast does Dungies Panhandle crabbers pulled up their second best Dungeness catch ever in combined summer and fall fisheries. A fleet of 104 crabbers pulled up 790,000 pounds during the two-month fishery that ended on Nov. 30, down slightly from catches that typically are closer to one million pounds. Also down was the number of participants which usually approach 200, likely due to a low price. Selling the crab at the dock helped boost the price from $1.68 per pound paid during the summer fishery, said Adam Messmer, a shellfish manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Douglas. “There was definitely a few more boats selling off the dock which bumps the average price up a little bit. For the fall, we had $1.91 so it was up a bit from the summer,” he said. The average price for the 2019 season was $3.07 per pound for Dungeness, which weigh two pounds on average. Still, combined with the summer Dungeness fishery it adds up to a near record catch for 2020. “With the fall season, we’re at almost 6.7 million pounds which is the second highest on record,” Messmer said. Southeast’s highest Dungeness catch was 7.3 million pounds in 2002. The most valuable harvest was in 2019 at $16.3 million to fishermen on a 5.3 million pound harvest. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Empty freezers bode well for 2021 prices

A lack of fish in the freezers is an encouraging sign for Alaska salmon as we head into the new year, driven by increasing customer demand. But headwinds from trade disputes and the COVID-19 pandemic also loom large on the 2021 horizon. Those are some prime takeaways shared by Mark Palmer, president and CEO of OBI Seafoods, and Allen Kimball, vice president of global operations and sales for Trident Seafoods. “We don’t see entering the 2021 season with any real big carryovers. And that’s always one of the downsides as we head into a new season, if there’s an abundance of two- to four-(pound) sockeyes or something. We’ve gone into seasons like that and it influences the new season pricing. But as we go into 2021, we should have a pretty clean slate and be ready to buy and ideally put it up in a better product form than we did this last year,” said Palmer, speaking at a webinar hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska. The COVID-19 pandemic this year forced a shift from workers producing fresh salmon fillets to lower value canned and frozen fish when the labor force was reduced and costly restrictions were imposed on processing lines. Kimball added that while he was “a little more conservative,” his outlook was fairly optimistic. “We don’t have inventories around and we have good demand,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of adjustments and positive things in terms of the demand at retail and it’s going to continue. And if we get this food service piece back to full giddy up, I think it’s going to be quite good.” Nationally, people are buying more seafood at grocery stores than ever before, added Palmer. And while lower in value, all that pack put up by Alaska processors fits the bill. “The type of seafood they’re buying is more canned and frozen products and that’s where we’ve really seen some great market share gains,” he explained. “It’s probably one of the best times to be a frozen seller and to get new value added products in the market.” With COVID-19 crippling the food service sector, Palmer said farmed fish has flooded into retail outlets and forced a downward press on salmon prices. “These aquaculture produced salmon had a huge piece of the food service market and as that evaporated, they’re still pulling fish out of the water. We’ve watched that industry go after the retail market more aggressively than they ever have. They’ve got the fish and they’re going to find someplace to move it. We’ve watched prices go down, so we’re slugging it out every day to keep our products on the shelf,” he said. Roughly 75 percent of the world’s salmon is now farmed, added Kimball. But both men emphasized Alaska’s biggest market competition comes from Russia. “When we’re negotiating with some of our bigger export markets, whether it’s salmon or whitefish, all of these global markets influence that,” Palmer said. “For the last four years, Russia has had these huge production years on pink salmon and solid sockeye and chum production. That’s what’s really driven the market. Trying to put up product forms where we don’t have to directly compete against Russia has been important.” Both also bemoaned the trade imbalance that allows Russian-caught fish into U.S. markets while that country has not purchased a U.S. pound since 2014. “Russia has open access to our markets with no restrictions. I just don’t understand the fairness of this,” Palmer said. “We would rather just see open markets. We will compete against anyone, but if they’re not going to give us access to their market, they shouldn’t have unfettered access to ours.” “If we can’t sell our fish in Russia, they shouldn’t be able to sell their fish in the United States,” echoed Kimball. “I think that’s going to continue to be a battle. We’ll have to see with the next administration how that’s going to materialize. But I anticipate that we’re going to have to be at the table really early and carefully to make sure that we get our voices heard in this particular issue.” Both men said that dealing with trade wars and currency fluctuations over the past several years “has been a big nightmare.” Tariff activity since 2018 on various fish ranges between 35 percent and 45 percent going into China, Kimball said, and a new 35 percent tariff has been imposed on Alaska salmon going to Europe stemming from a government dispute over airplane subsidies. “It is going to have an effect on our ability to get wild salmon into the European Union. With that kind of tariff, it’s going to make it pretty darn tough,” said Kimball. “But I would say that with many of these tariff challenges, what we’ve seen in China and other countries, the dynamics of this could change. So we’re heavily working on this from a political position standpoint. But if this remains, there is no question it’s going to have a big influence on fish next year.” The ongoing influence of the COVID-19 pandemic also remains a question. Most seafood companies picked up the tab this year to charter planes to transport tens of thousands of processing workers, rent hotel rooms for 14-day quarantines, purchase testing and prevention equipment in costs not reimbursed by federal relief funds. More strict state requirements for preventive protocols are already extended into 2021. “In fact, they’ve been expanded,” said Kimball. “We are all working with the state on surveying our community work forces and factories at places that operate year round, and we have to go to continuous monitoring of our employees there, including testing. So the handling of the workforce is getting more expensive, not less, as we head into 2021. It’s just a big unknown at this point.” Share the Sea Two million pounds of seafood turns into 8 million meals at Feeding America food bank networks across the nation. That’s how much the Seattle-based nonprofit SeaShare has donated to Lower 48 states so far this year. Alaskans in dozens of remote communities also share in the seafood bounty. “I think we’re at 180,000 pounds which is over 720,000 servings this year, which is more than we normally do,” said SeaShare Executive Director Jim Harmon. SeaShare has positioned freezers full of fish in regional hubs at Juneau, Kodiak, Anchorage, the Mat-Su, Kenai, Dillingham and Kotzebue that allows distribution to remote communities. The program began in 1994 with bycatch donations from boats fishing the Bering Sea and has since expanded in the Gulf of Alaska to include 136 vessels, 12 shoreside processors, 34 catcher processors and three motherships. To date, it has delivered more than 220 million seafood servings of fish to U.S. food bank networks. SeaShare is the only group authorized to receive bycatch donations which today make up about 20 percent of the fish; the rest includes a wide array of smelt, halibut steaks, salmon burgers, breaded pollock portions and more, all processed and donated by seafood companies. “The nice thing is that the donations that the fishermen and processors make, it enables us to bring in other donations of freight, cold storage, packaging, and those things they wouldn’t be able to donate if we didn’t have the fish,” Harmon said. Good protein is the hardest item to source and the demand on food banks has soared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The clients that go to food banks have doubled this year. I believe 22 percent of Americans are accessing food banks and that’s unprecedented. That’s an incredible need,” Harmon said. With many federal and state relief programs set to expire at the end of December, pressure will grow as food banks struggle to keep up with. There are all kinds of restrictions in place and volunteers have really dropped off, which most food banks rely on to distribute the hand outs and segregate all the different donations that come in,” Harmon said. “It’s scary to think about. It’s going to come right after the holidays when those extra services run out.” Donations are more important than ever to fill the seafood pipeline. Harmon said every one dollar donated to SeaShare equals eight seafood servings to hungry Americans. Fish skins cure Fish skins that help regenerate human tissue have garnered a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Defense Department to make them available to wounded soldiers. It’s the third grant the Icelandic company Kerecis has received from the Defense Department’s Combat Casualty Care Research Program (JPC-6). Kerecis has pioneered and patented the omega 3 fish skins that need minimal processing and provide an infection barrier while enabling the body to regrow its own tissues. The skins already are used around the world in hospitals and by health care workers and consumers. Now, Kerecis will create field kits for use by the U.S. military. The company says it “harnesses nature’s own remedies,” in this case the Omega-3 fatty acids and collagen found in cod fish skins. And because no disease-transfer risk exists between cold-water fish and humans, the skins are ideal for treating soldiers in the field. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and supports everything from our skin and bones to our toenails, and marine collagen is the same kind. While the marine collagen market is pegged to reach nearly $1 billion by 2023, Alaska’s skins are still dumped as wastes. For Alaska pollock, with catch volumes averaging more than three billion pounds a year, that adds up to more than 1.4 million pounds of skins, assuming a five percent yield, according to economist Dan Lesh of McKinley Research Group (formerly McDowell Group). Pacific cod could produce nearly 1.4 million pounds of skins. The skin yield is in the 8 to 10 percent range for Alaska salmon. And they are loaded with healing goods: Studies show cod skins produce about 11 percent collagen and nearly 20 percent has been extracted from salmon skins. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.


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