Laine Welch

Fish Factor: It's a wrap

This is my last fish column. The weekly write up about Alaska’s fishing industry began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News. Since then, subscribership has grown to nearly 20 news outlets across Alaska and nationally. The goal always has been to make readers aware of the seafood industry’s economic, social and cultural importance to all Alaskans. Just one extra penny per pound at the docks means millions of dollars more for state coffers! Commercial fishing puts more people to work than any other private industry in Alaska and provides two-thirds of the nation’s wild caught seafood. Over 31,000 fishermen are out on the waters each year on about 8,900 vessels ranging from small skiffs to large catcher-processors topping 300 feet. Most of Alaska’s fishing boats – 84% - measure less than 50 feet. Each boat is a small storefront, an independent business that can support one or more families. As I leave the fish beat after three decades, here are some top thoughts. I hope that Alaska can find ways to keep more of its fishing revenues in the state. A .78 share of the $718 million value for all pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish caught in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska in 2020 went to non-resident vessels. Fifty-two Alaskans own 31% of the snow crab quota share pool; 200 non-residents own 66%. Forty-nine Alaskans own 28% of the Bristol Bay red king crab quota; 181 non-residents own 70%. Maybe there’s a way that a portion of those catches could be allocated to coastal towns, similar to the community quota program for Western Alaskans. Just sayin’…. Likewise, I hope that more salmon permits remain in Alaskan hands. Since Alaska began limiting entry into salmon fisheries in 1975 residents of Bristol Bay communities, for example, now hold less than one-quarter of the region’s salmon permits. And over 60% of gross earnings from the Bay’s driftnet fishery leave the state. My wish is to see more of every Alaska fish fully utilized. Nearly all other protein industries around the world use animals “from the rooter to the tooter.” But in Alaska, the fish skins, heads, organs, shells, and undervalued species like sculpin or arrowtooth flounders are mostly discarded or ground up and dumped. Those by products could provide a steady Alaska revenue stream of hundreds of millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, cosmetic and myriad other industries. For example, an Icelandic company called Kerecis recently was given a third six-figure grant by the US Defense Department to create bandages from cod skins for use by the military. The collagen and omega 3s in the skins provide infection barriers and enable the human body to regrow its own healthy tissues. I believe Alaska is getting left behind in terms of patented or trademarked “intellectual properties” stemming from things like bioengineering, advanced analytics, decarbonized vessels, robotics and other high-tech industry advances seen in other states and nations. In Newfoundland, for example, robots that cut and shuck snow crab nabbed a U.S. patent for the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation and 10 are being issued for other countries. The robot makers believe the system will help solve workforce problems in remote processing plants where it’s tough to recruit enough workers. Commercial fishing was Alaska’s first industry and it drove the push to statehood in 1959. As Alaska Senator Ted Stevens often said: Long after the last drop of oil is taken from our lands, our fisheries will sustain us. It has been a privilege to be a voice for Alaska’s seafood industry and I will continue to be. Find fishing updates, prices, market trends and comments at my new blog (still a work in progress) – www.alaskafish.news.

Fish Factor: As demand for herring roe plummets, industry seeks markets for the wasted fish

The arrival of herring signals the start of Alaska’s spring fisheries, and this year’s catch levels from each of the three main areas are record breakers. Combined harvests from three prime producing areas total 118,346 tons, or nearly 237 million pounds. The numbers come from fisheries at Sitka Sound in late March, where the catch this year is set at over 45,164 tons (90 million pounds). That’s followed on April 1 at Kodiak, where 8,075 tons (16 million pounds) can be hauled in. Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, at Togiak in Bristol Bay, kicks off in May with a whopping harvest this year set at 65,107 tons (130 million pounds). But once again, the bulk of the available fish will go unharvested due to no buyers. Since the 1970s the value of Alaska’s herring fishery has been driven by the roe-laden skeins in the female fish. When the huge schools arrive, managers monitor the condition of the ripening females over several days to obtain the highest-value product. Only then do they open the fishery to seiners and gillnetters. In the 1990s, the roe herring could sell for well over $1,000 per ton to buyers in Japan, where the skeins are considered a delicacy. At that time, the fishery tallied over $60 million to fishermen. Since then, changing tastes and attitudes in Japan have driven the value below $5 million in 2020, with catches averaging just $.08 per pound. And Japan is Alaska’s only roe herring customer. “It’s maybe the most extreme example of how a major Alaska industry could be dependent on an extremely specialized foreign market. And it is a stark contrast to the diverse buyers of other Alaska species,” said Gunnar Knapp, a retired University of Alaska fisheries economist. Most of the herring is frozen whole and shipped out in 15-pound bags to secondary processors in Seattle or Asia, and then sent to Japan. The herring are sorted by sex and the egg skeins are “popped” from the females. The males that are taken as bycatch and the female carcasses are ground up for meal for foreign fish farms, or simply discarded. A small portion is sold as bait. The herring not destined for human consumption runs as high as 88% each year. “It’s like hunting a herd of deer only to harvest the liver. Maybe it’s time to start calling the industry what it is — the fishmeal industry,” said K’asheetchlaa Louise Brady of the Southeast Herring Protectors in a March 2 opinion piece in the Juneau Empire. “Herring is an unutilized resource. We are going to have a Togiak herring quota that will largely go unharvested because there is not a market. We’re working with the processing sector to try and find a market,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang at ComFish in Kodiak. Herring is a mainstay in countries around the world where it’s filleted, smoked, pickled, salted and pated. The fish are provided primarily by Norwegian fleets and can pay out at $1.40 a pound to fishermen. In Alaska, only Togiak herring are large enough to develop into fillets. Togiak fish can weigh from 14 ounces to nearly one pound, compared to 4 to 5 ounces for other herring. A report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says that herring fillet production at Togiak could boost the first wholesale value to $14.5 million. That compares to an average value of $2.7 million between 2000 and 2019. To reintroduce herring to American diners, ASMI in 2016 launched a wildly successful, weeklong Northwest Herring Week in Seattle with about 10 high-end chefs. The event was led by ASMI Food Aid Director Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, who obtained donations of Togiak herring fillets from North Pacific Seafoods. The next year nearly 60 chefs and restaurants participated. The Alaska Legislature has expanded a product development tax to include herring. Marketers must have a ready customer before they can take advantage of the tax break. Do I hear Seattle calling? Askin’ for AlaSkins  Dogs are “Askin’ for AlaSkins” made from fish skins with a side of CBDs. The treats, made from halibut, cod and salmon skins, are the creation of Sara Erickson of Soldotna, who began making and selling them in 2017. Since then, AlaSkins won a 2021 Best New Business award in reader voting for the ADN Best of Alaska event. The small company also took home a second place at the 2022 Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition. Erickson buys freeze-dried fish skins from local processors. At her small plant in North Kenai, the skins are made into rolls or laid flat on dehydrating racks and packaged. Her crew of four also scrapes off any extra meat that goes into a canned product for dogs and cats. No other ingredients are added. “AlaSkins are full of protein, Omega 3s, Vitamin A, Potassium, Vitamin D, and B12. They don’t need any other ingredients,” Erickson quickly points out. One ingredient option is skins laced with CBD oil to reduce pain or stress. AlaSkins partners with Homer-based Frontier CBDs to make treats from hemp isolate combined with wild salmon oil. “We didn’t mess around with small amounts of CBD. We loaded each treat with 15mg,” Erickson said. Erickson is currently building a larger facility to accommodate growing demand. She envisions it might be a licensed processing facility that can accommodate other entrepreneurs. The state does not do food safety audits on pet food makers, she said, which has blocked AlaSkins from breaking into big markets like Costco. Erickson credited state Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) for helping to find a solution to that deal breaker. “Alaska really needs to start focusing on different revenue streams,” she said. “Instead of just selling our fish, sell the wastes. I want Alaska to start marketing this whole line that says Alaska seafood isn’t just for people, it’s also for pets.” AlaSkins can be found in nearly 20 outlets from Southeast to Fairbanks and at Erickson’s retail store at 44109 Sterling Highway in Soldotna. For a touch of “surf and turf,” also take home a moose antler dog chew.

Fish Factor: Hatchery salmon comprised one-third of Alaska commercial catch in 2021

Salmon returning home to Alaska hatcheries again accounted for nearly one-third of the 2021 statewide catch for commercial fishermen at 64 million fish. It was the eighth largest hatchery homecoming since 1977 and, at a payout of $142 million, the salmon produced 25% of the overall value at the Alaska docks. An additional 220,000 salmon that got their start in a hatchery also were caught in Alaska sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. Nearly 70 million adult hatchery salmon returned last year, according to the annual salmon enhancement report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Pinks made up the bulk of the pack, topping 57 million, followed by chum salmon at 9.4 million. Currently, 30 salmon hatcheries operate in Alaska. Twenty-six are operated by private, nonprofit corporations and are funded primarily from the sale of a portion of the returning fish. Of these, 11 are state-owned and operate at no cost to Alaska. The state also operates two sportfish hatcheries, one research hatchery is run by NOAA Fisheries, and the Metlakatla Indian Community also owns and operates a hatchery. At a glance: Prince William Sound had the highest number of hatchery returns in 2021 at 48.2 million salmon. Nearly 40 million were caught in the commercial fisheries, worth almost $68 million to fishermen, or 62% of the dockside value. Pink salmon contributed the most at $49 million. Kodiak ranked second for hatchery salmon returns at 11.6 million fish. That produced a catch of more than 8 million fish worth $10 million to fishermen. Pink salmon contributed most to the value at over $8 million, followed by sockeyes at $1.5 million. Southeast Alaska had a total return of 8.2 million hatchery salmon and nearly 5 million were caught, valued at $32 million to fishermen, or 27% of the region’s dockside value. Cook Inlet ranked fourth for hatchery returns at 827,000 salmon. The fish contributed about 134,000 salmon to the Inlet’s commercial fishery valued at $946,000, or 5% of the value to fishermen. Sockeye salmon paid out the most by far at $908,000, followed by pink salmon at $38,000. Since 1995, annual releases by Alaska’s combined hatcheries have ranged from 1.4 to 1.8 billion juvenile salmon About 1.7 billion fish were released in 2021, mostly from eggs collected in 2020. They included 870 million pink salmon and 750 million chums. Alaska hatchery operators expect a total return of just over 44 million salmon in 2022. Fish Board nominees needed The Alaska Board of Fisheries is minus one member as it wraps up its meeting cycle through April 2, and two more seats become vacant in June. The board is meeting through Tuesday in Anchorage to address nearly 160 management proposals for Southeast and Yakutat subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. A daylong hatchery committee meeting is set for March 23, followed from March 26 through April 3 by shellfish issues at Cook Inlet, Kodiak and the westward region, the Arctic and shrimp management at Prince William Sound. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has yet to appoint someone to fill the seat of Indy Walton of Soldotna, who resigned from the Fish Board in December after serving just three months. By Alaska law, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days of a seat becoming vacant. Members Israel Payton of Wasilla and Gerad Godfrey of Eagle River do not plan to continue on the Fish Board, according to board director Glenn Haight. Currently, only one of the seven Fish Board seats is held by a member from a coastal region – John Jensen of Petersburg – and none are from the commercial fishing sector. “Yep - the body that regulates pretty much everything to do with commercial fishing in state waters doesn’t have a single commercial fisherman on board. None. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Amazing,” commented the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Insiders say there is a power struggle between legislators and industry stakeholders who want more commercial fishing representation on the Fish Board, while the governor wants more sportfishing voices. Fish give back Western Alaska communities are invited to submit applications for grants from American Seafoods Co. A total of $45,000 will be given out in this round, with the majority of awards ranging from $1,000 to $7,500 for projects that address social needs and food security. Another $45,000 will be awarded in October. Grant applicants can hail 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 deadline to apply is April 18; recipients will be announced by an advisory board on May 5. Since 1997, American Seafoods has granted over $1.8 million to organizations and programs in Alaska through its grant program. Forms are available online at www.americanseafoods.com or by contacting Kim Lynch ([email protected] (206-256-2659).

Fish Factor: State task force investigating bycatch has a big, complicated task ahead

Gotta give the Dunleavy administration credit for being the first to try to get to the bottom of one of Alaska’s most troubling fishing issues: bycatch. The governor in November created the Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force (ABRT) “to help better understand unintended bycatch of high value fishery resources in state and federal waters.” He defined bycatch as “fish which are harvested in a fishery but are not sold or kept.” The 13-member group will issue a final report based on those better understandings in November 2022. “Once the structure of the task force is framed, it will be a good road map of how we can incorporate everyday Alaskans’ voices into the decision-making process,” said Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang in announcing the ABRT, “because they are the owners of these resources.” Since January the ABRT has met online three times and formed four committees and subcommittees focusing on 1) science, technology, and innovation; 2) Western Alaska salmon; 3) Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska crab; and 4) Gulf of Alaska halibut and salmon. A new public page launched last week at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s site includes the agendas, minutes and audio from all meetings. The reference library also provides presentations by state and federal managers and an overview of genetic stock identification of salmon taken as bycatch in Alaska’s groundfish fisheries. All fisheries are plagued by accidental takes of unwanted species, due to size or being out of season or on a fishing gear’s “can’t catch” list. It includes multimillions of tons of fish and crab that are required by law to be discarded every year. There is no denying that the trawl sector bears the brunt of the bycatch burden. There is no denying they hate tossing fish over the side as much as any other fisherman. Alaskans have been angry and frustrated by the federally required waste for decades, but it took last summer’s shutdown of the Yukon River subsistence chum salmon fishery to really get people’s attention. While village smokehouses and freezers stayed empty, trawlers had no limits on their chum bycatch and went about business as usual. “We have to communicate directly with affected communities,” said ABRT member Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) at the March 9 meeting. “That’s something we have to think about as we develop a product - how we’re going to have two-way communications with the folks that have gotten us to this point where we have a bycatch working group in the first place.” Providing information that “Everyday Alaskans” can understand is critical, said ABRT vice-chair Tommy Sheridan. “How can Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska bycatch reports be more readily available and simplified for public review and understanding?” he said as an example. Sincerely, good luck with that. Federal catch accounting is easily available and impressively inclusive. But the data and reports contain a befuddling mishmash of metrics, acronyms and descriptions that are tough to interpret, like this definition: “Bycatch = Discarded fish. Economic discards: fish harvested which could be legally retained, but are of insufficient value to retain. Regulatory discards: fish harvested which are required by regulation to be discarded whenever caught, or are required by regulation to be retained but not sold. Prohibited Species Catch (PSC): A special type of regulatory discard that must be returned to sea with a minimum of injury = Pacific halibut, herring, salmon, steelhead, king crab, bairdi, opilio crab.” At least two “listening sessions” are planned “where all we do is take public comments,” said ABTR member Stephanie Madsen, director of the At-Sea Processors Association. The “owners of these resources” will be “incorporating their voices” and asking lots of questions. Why, for example, are crab considered as “Prohibited Species Catch” in the Bering Sea but not in the Gulf? And why do managers use a different mix of crab numbers and pounds that don’t add up in bycatch reports? Why are “other salmon” (chum) considered as PSC but have no assigned caps? If a PSC cap is reached, managers say, a fishery will be shut down. But when Bering Sea trawlers neared their herring cap in 2020, it was quickly doubled by emergency action. Why were trawlers allowed to exceed their sablefish bycatch limits by 356% and 484% in back to back years, topping 11 million pounds? What are PSQ and CDQ and COBLZ in weekly bycatch updates? And why is there almost no public information or data on bycatch in state fisheries (out to three miles)? Member Brian Gabriel, City of Kenai mayor, stressed at the meeting that “this work group was formed because of public outrage at things that may or may not be accurate.” “We’re going to spend some time over the next several months providing information that’s more accurate on what’s actually going on and some possible solutions,” Gabriel added. “If we don’t have a way of getting information out, what we’re doing will have very little value to the folks that are the most concerned.” Board of Fisheries meets with an empty seat – The state Board of Fisheries is meeting through March 22 in Anchorage, minus one member. By March 11 Gov. Mike Dunleavy had not named a replacement for Indy Walton, who resigned in December. Alaska law states that an appointment must be made in 30 days, but “the seat is vacant until an appointment is made,” said spokesman Jeff Turner. The Fish Board is addressing subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fishery proposals for Southeast and Yakutat. Meanwhile, Dunleavy nominated Nicole Kimball and Angela Drobnica to seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Kimball, who is vice president and fisheries policy analyst for the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, was selected for a second three-year term. Drobnica is director of fisheries and government affairs for the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association and a member of the council’s Advisory Panel. Drobnica will replace Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, if the nominations are approved by the U.S. Commerce Secretary. The terms begin in August.

Fish Factor: Promising halibut, sablefish and roe herring fisheries are about to open

More fishing boats are on the water with the start of the Pacific halibut and sablefish (black cod) fisheries on March 6, followed by Alaska’s first big herring fishery at Sitka Sound. For halibut, the coastwide catch from waters ranging from the West Coast states to British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea was increased by 5.7% this year to 41.22 million pounds. Alaska always gets the lion’s share of the commercial halibut harvest, which for 2022 is 21.51 million pounds, a nearly 10% increase. Expectations for a good fishery are high and “rumors of opening dock prices around $8.00/lb have folks very excited,” said Alaska Boats and Permits in its weekly Fish Ticket report from Homer. The average dock price for Alaska halibut in 2021 was $6.40/lb. Alaska fishermen also are seeing increased abundance of sablefish, and the combined 2022 Gulf and Bering Sea catches were increased by 32% to 76 million pounds. A herring spawn on kelp fishery opens on March 17 at Craig and Klawok, with a harvest limit of 5,060 tons. The roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound that typically kicks off in late March has the highest harvest level ever at 45,164 tons (90.3 million pounds). Shrimpers at Prince William Sound must register to drop pots by April 1 for the mid-April start of a fishery that could yield 66,900 pounds. A Tanner crab fishery kicked off on March 1 at Prince William Sound with a 61,800-pound catch limit. It could run through March 31 unless the quota is taken earlier. The Tanner crab fishery at Southeast that began on Feb. 11 should be a wrap by March 9. No word yet on catches but managers reported “historically high crab levels” and the take should easily top last year’s 1.27 million-pound harvest. Crabbers have fingers crossed that the Southeast price will mirror Kodiak’s jaw-dropping $8.50/lb. Southeast crabbers also can concurrently pull up golden king crabs with a harvest limit of 75,300 pounds, a nearly 24% increase from last year. The goldens weigh 5-8 pounds on average and last year averaged $11.55/lb at the docks. Crabbers at Norton Sound are setting pots through the ice for 27,328 pounds of red king crab. Fewer than 10 permit holders will sell their catches locally as no buyers signed up due to concerns over the dwindling crab stock. The Bering Sea snow crab fleet has pulled up about 70% of its 5.6 million-pound quota (about 4.3 million animals), down 88% from 2021. Yet bottom trawlers targeting flounders are allowed 5.99 million snow crabs as bycatch, equal to 7.8 million pounds. Crabbers also have taken 68% of their 1 million-pound Bering Sea bairdi Tanner quota. The bycatch allowance for trawlers is 3.07 million animals, topping 6 million pounds. Boats also continue to fish for Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, where combined catches could top 3 billion pounds. Fishing also is ongoing for cod, rockfish, perch, flounders and many other species. Finally, it’s hard to believe but fishery managers at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will announce the catches for Alaska’s 2022 salmon fishery any day. Names? Who knows – The state Board of Fisheries meeting is just days away but Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has yet to reveal who might fill a vacant seat on the seven-member panel. The Fish Board will convene March 10-22 in Anchorage to address Southeast/Yakutat commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fishery management issues. Dunleavy appointed Indy Walton of Soldotna to the board in September but he resigned in December due to health reasons. By law, the governor has 30 days to make another appointment. Requests for information to Dunleavy’s office have gone unanswered. The governor also is silent about his selections for two seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. By law, names must be forwarded to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce by March 15. The terms of members Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, and Nicole Kimball, Vice-President of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, end on Aug. 10. Both could be reappointed. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council oversees management of over 140 fish and shellfish species within 47 stocks and stock complexes. Wonders of fish ‘wastes’ – Scottish researchers are turning salmon wastes into a key component in nylon. Plastic experts from Impact Solutions have partnered with the University of Edinburgh, seafood producer Farne Salmon and the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre to use biological enzymes to extract the fatty components of fish waste. They are then turned into a mixture of adipic acid, a precursor to nylon. Adipic acid also is used in a wide range of products including petrochemical and polyurethane-based items such as building insulation, furniture cushions, cosmetics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, food additives and flavorings. “This project marks the start of an exciting journey to find a sustainable alternative for a key component found in the fabric of our clothes. The initial feasibility study has led us to an exciting juncture where we can begin to see the potential of generating value from a material that would otherwise be discarded,” Impact Solutions Development Manager Simon Rathbone told SeafoodSource news. The researchers want to maximize the value of the process by looking at other components that can be extracted from fish wastes, such as fatty acids and fish oils. “Our waste streams have been a major focus in recent years and wherever possible we have found routes to divert them to businesses who have the foresight and technology to utilize them as raw materials for further processing,” the team added. The researchers noted that over 1 billion pounds of waste is created annually by the U.K. processing industry. In Alaska, the wasted skins, heads, oils and other fish parts top 3 billion pounds and could add over $700 million to the state’s revenue stream, according to a report on “specialty products” by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. New blog – Check out my new blog at www.alaskafish.news and on Facebook!

Fish Factor: Ban on US purchases of Russian seafood opposed by some national food marketers

Quid pro quo. Tit for tat. An eye for an eye. “If they don’t buy from us, we shouldn’t buy from them,” Alaska’s seafood industry has grumbled since 2014, when Russia abruptly banned all food imports from the U.S and several other countries. Then, as now, the faceoff stemmed from Russia’s invasion and subsequent takeover of chunks of Ukraine, which prompted backlash and severe sanctions. Yet U.S. purchases of Russian seafood through 2021 have totaled over $4.6 billion and counting, according to federal trade data. Alaska’s congressional delegation has finally taken first steps to end the trade imbalance. On Feb. 9, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan introduced the United States-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act of 2022 that would prohibit imports of any Russian seafood products into the U.S. until that country ends its ban on buying U.S. seafoods. That was followed by a companion bill (H.R. 6821) on Feb. 23 by Rep. Don Young demanding the same. “It is frustrating when we go into a grocery store in the U.S. and see Russian seafood products sold at a much lower rate. We hear it from the processors and fishermen we work with,” Jeremy Woodrow, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said at a recent House Fisheries Committee hearing. “Think crab, pollock, wild salmon, halibut and cod -- Russia competes with Alaska’s seafood across the global market. Their products are imported and sold at a lower cost, and therefore undercut the value of Alaska seafood in our most valuable market, the United States. And since 2014, the U.S. has seen Russian seafood imports increased by 173%.” Russia was the eighth-largest exporter of seafood to the U.S. in 2021, sending nearly 108 million pounds worth $1.2 billion, a 12% increase in volume and 34% increase in value over 2020, reported Undercurrent News. The Russian seafood included roughly 80 items, but the most valuable were frozen snow crab at nearly 41.5 million pounds worth $509.2 million, and 18.8 million pounds of frozen red king crab valued at almost $420 million. But the proposed ban has caused pushback from an unexpected source: U.S. companies. Undercurrent provided an analysis by market expert Les Hodges, who said the embargo would eliminate over 90% of Russian king crab imports and 30% of snow crab imports. That could put a number of companies that specialize in these products in danger of going out of business. “Alaska does not have the resources to fill in for this potential loss of product. King crab and snow crab producing areas are limited. The largest production is in the Russian Far East and the Barents Sea,” Hodges said, adding: “The U.S. and other world markets are now dependent on Russian, Canadian and other resources.” The Russian resource has been stable at over 100,000 metric tons (220.5 million pounds) for all combined crab species in recent years. Almost 70 million pounds of Russian crab were imported by more than 30 U.S. seafood companies in 2021, with an import value of $928.9 million, Hodges said. He pointed out that king and snow crab are an important part of the product mix for many U.S. companies and industries: “In 2021, 78% of the crab from the Russian Far East was shipped to the Northwest, creating many jobs in everything from shipping, cold storage, reprocessing, and, of course, marketing and sales throughout the U.S. The damage following passage of this bill would not be limited to importers. Seafood marketing companies, restaurants, food service, cruise lines, retail and hospitality sectors across the country would suffer. Consumers would lose the ability to have king crab, and several species of snow crab would simply disappear.” Hodges concluded: “The intent of this bill is good and I personally support the reopening of the Russian market to U.S. seafood producers, but this is not the way to success.” Little biz wins big Waterbody of Wrangell scored the grand prize for its Deep Blue Sea Soak at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood awards ceremony on Feb. 24 in Juneau. Made with kelp and sea salts, the soak is described as “smelling like that first breath of fresh sea-salted air as you resurface from a skinny dipping swan dive.” Here are the other winners: In the retail category, Ocean Beauty won first place for its Echo Falls Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon Tapas Sliced Mediterranean; Foraged and Found of Ketchikan took home second for its spicy kelp-based Arrabiata tomato sauce, and Barnacle Food’s Alaskan BBQ Sauce placed third. For food service, Seagrove Kelp Co. of Ketchikan won for its Alaska Grown Ribbon Kelp. Trident Seafoods took second and third honors for its SEA LEGS Redi-Shred and Surimi Seafood and Nacho Cheese Dipper. Waterbody’s Sea Soak also won the Beyond the Plate category, with AlaSkin Dog Treats of Soldotna taking second and Trident’s Pure Catch Wild Alaska Salmon Oil winning third. In the Bristol Bay salmon slot, Ocean Beauty won a first and third place for its Smoked Salmon Tapas and Wild Alaska Cedar Wrapped Salmon/Citrus Dill; Alaskan Leader Seafoods scored a second place win for its Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon. For whitefish, Wild Alaska Cracked Pepper Pollock Jerky by Neptune Snacks scored the win, followed by Trident’s Food Truck Inspired Pollock Dill Pickle and Alaskan Leader’s Alaska Black Cod in Japanese Miso Marinade. All top winners now head to Boston’s Seafood Expo North America show in late March. The Alaska Symphony of Seafood new products competition has been hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation since 1994. ComFish ComFish Alaska is holding its 42nd annual trade show at Kodiak from March 24-26, and it features a lively forum lineup offered both in-person and online. They include seafood market updates and opportunities, updates on Alaska crab stocks, impacts of climate change on fisheries and communities, training needs for new fishermen, using surveys to understand public perceptions, innovation and the future of Alaska’s seafood industry and federal and state legislative updates. Find the list of presentations, exhibitors and community events at www.comfishak.com and on Facebook. Questions? Contact the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Alaska fishing industry economics report offers some surprising numbers

Where do most Alaska fishermen live? Which Alaska region is home to the most fishing boats? The answers can be found in an easy to read, colorful economic report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute for 2019-20 that includes all regions from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. Many will be surprised to learn that nearly 40% of Alaska’s more than 31,000 fishermen live in the Southcentral towns of Anchorage, Kenai, Cordova, Seward, Homer, Valdez and Whittier. They earn more than half of their paychecks from fisheries outside of the region, with the Bristol Bay driftnet fishery being the main source of income. Southeast’s 5,316 resident fishermen in nine communities own nearly one-third (2,655) of Alaska’s fishing fleet, more than any other region. Overall, the industry includes 8,900 fishing vessels with 5,417 (61%) measuring in the 23-49 foot range. Each is a small (or big) business and if all the vessels were lined up bow to stern, they would stretch nearly 63 miles! The fishing boats harvested nearly 5.7 billion pounds of seafood in 2019, worth $2 billion. Other snapshots: Alaska’s seafood industry is the largest private-sector employer and more than 62,200 workers were on the job in 2019. Alaska residents made up 63% of the active permit owners and crew (19,808). Alaska’s processing sector employed 27,100 workers at 160 shore-based plants, aboard 52 catcher-processor vessels and about 30 floating processors. Seafood processing is the state’s largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 70% of manufacturing employment. Alaska produces more seafood than all other U.S. states combined and provides two-thirds of the nation’s wild-caught fish and shellfish. Alaska seafood is sold in 100 countries around the world and is the state’s top export by far, topping $3 billion annually. Alaska provides 43% of the global supply of pollock, 13% of cod, 6% of crab. Alaska salmon provides 11% to the world, with farmed salmon production swamping wild fish at nearly 3-to-1. Bristol Bay (428 resident-owned boats/1,764 resident fishermen) accounts for over half of global sockeye salmon supply and is home to the largest red run in the world. In 2019, Alaska salmon accounted for 36% of the industry’s annual value and 15% of the volume. Pollock accounted for 24% of the value and 59% of volume. The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands region produced 55% of total seafood value and 79% of the volume. High-volume whitefish (pollock, cod), mostly harvested at that region and Kodiak, account for roughly 80% of harvest volume and nearly half of Alaska’s dockside value. Commercial fishing and processing businesses paid more than $163 million in taxes, fees, and self-assessments in FY 2019. COVID-driven impacts in 2020 caused widespread revenue declines across all species, with participation by fishermen dropping 12% for permit holders and 28% for crew (down by 1,058 skippers and 6,555 crew members), and payments to fishermen dropped 27%. Peak processing employment declined 21%. The ASMI report, compiled by McKinley Research, is a great primer for anyone who wants to know more about Alaska’s fishing industry in every region. Find the January 2022 ASMI report at www.alaskaseafood.org   Bycatch task force update – The 13-member bycatch task force created by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy in November will hold its first two-hour online meeting on Friday starting at 9 a.m. An agenda and link for the public to either view or participate will be made available soon. The task force includes a mix of state officials, fishery managers, commercial and sportfishermen and others. Their mission through Nov. 30 is to “study what impacts bycatch has on Alaska fisheries” and “make valuable recommendations to help better understand and address the issues of bycatch.” “The first meeting will be to determine future meeting dates and introduce ourselves to each other. I’m not sure we’ll discuss any substantive issues,” said a task force member. Meanwhile …   Discards OK’d – The “pre-approved” 2022 bycatch numbers for the Bering Sea trawl fleet set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council are as follows: Chinook salmon bycatch: 45,700 fish (there is no hard cap for chums or other salmon) Halibut bycatch: 5.48 million pounds (For the Gulf of Alaska: 3.76 million pounds) Herring bycatch: 6 million pounds Snow crab (opilio): 5.99 million individuals (equal to 7.8 million pounds; the catch for crabbers is 5.6 million pounds) Tanner crab (bairdi): 3.07 million individuals (6,140,000 pounds; crabbers can take 1 million pounds) Red king crab: 80,160 individuals (520,000 pounds; the fishery is closed to crabbers for the first time in 25 years) There is no bycatch cap for sablefish (black cod) in the Bering Sea or Gulf; the Gulf also does not have any bycatch caps for any species of crab.   Lease plan gets panned – Alaskans gave a big thumbs down to a proposed oil and gas lease sale at Lower Cook Inlet that includes nine blocks covering over 1 million acres of seafloor. The waters are off the mouth of Kachemak Bay’s Critical Habitat Area created by the Alaska Legislature in the 1970s and are widely used by sport and commercial fishermen Of the 92,899 public comments made over 45 days to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on its draft environmental impact statement, 99.98% were opposed to the lease sale (called 258), according to Cook InletKeeper. The area includes federal waters three miles offshore that the government recently closed to Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishing. The BOEM will next issue a final EIS that responds to all substantive comments. At that time, they would adopt an action alternative (proposed action, no action, or an alternative). After a 30-day wait period, a record of decision is issued.   Fish relief funds – Several Alaska fisheries occurring from 2018 to 2021 were declared disasters last week by the U.S. secretary of commerce, making participants eligible for relief funds. The declaration came at the request of the governor and include: Upper Cook Inlet east-side setnet (2018) and Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries (2020) Copper River chinook and sockeye salmon fisheries (2018) Prince William Sound salmon fisheries (2020) Copper River chinook, sockeye, and chum salmon fisheries (2020) Eastern Bering Sea tanner crab (2019/2020) Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska (2020) Norton Sound, Yukon River, Chignik, Kuskokwim River, and Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries (2020) Yukon River salmon fishery (2021) Some fishery-related businesses may also be eligible for assistance from the Small Business Administration. The amount of funds to be distributed has yet to be determined.

Fish Factor: Demand keeps pushing Alaska crab prices higher

$8.10 per pound! That’s the jaw-dropping advance price being paid to Kodiak fishermen for Tanner crab in the fishery that opened Jan. 15. High crab prices have led all other seafoods during the COVID pandemic as buyers grab all they can to fill demand at buffet tables, restaurants and retail counters around the world. “Our strategy was to get a price before the season even started. It’s simply bad business to go fishing without a price,” said Peter Longrich, secretary of the 74 member Kodiak Crab Alliance Cooperative that negotiated the deal with local processors. Crabbers will drop pots for a combined total of 1.8 million pounds, with 1.1 million pounds earmarked for Kodiak, 500,000 for the South Peninsula and 200,000 at Chignik. The price compares to $4.25/lb paid in 2020 for a 400,000 pound harvest and $4.40/lb in 2019 for 615,000 pounds. No Tanner fishery occurred in 2021 as crabbers waited for more mature male crabs to grow into the fishery, the only ones that can be retained for sale. The legal crabs weigh over 2 pounds on average. The waiting paid off. Local biologists have been tracking one of the largest cohorts of Tanners ever seen since 2018 throughout the westward region. It appears to be two big year classes with a broad range of sizes that could support several years of fishing, said Nat Nichols, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. “A Tanner crab is getting to be legal size around age 4 or 5, and then they start to die of natural causes or age out of the population by around 7 or 8. Once they start to become legal, we can expect them to hang around for potentially three years, and there’ll be more small crab behind them. So you can kind of think of this as the front edge,” Nichols said. Fishing is expected to go fast depending on three factors: the number of boats, good or scratchy hauls and weather. A total of 85 boats were signed up for the fishery at Kodiak, 47 at the South Peninsula and 14 at Chignik. Nichols said the opener could be as short as three days or it might last about a week. Crabbers can expect a lot of measuring, he said, adding that a large group of crab are going to be “just short of the stick this year.” “Those are next year’s crabs and we want to handle them carefully and get them back in the water,” he said. “There will be a lot of sorting and if a pot has 30 or 40 legal male keepers in it, it may have 300 or 400 sublegal males and females mixed in there.” The webbing in the pots also will add to the workload. “If you have a groundfish pot that’s converted to a Tanner pot and it’s got small, 3-inch web or something like that, the only way for nontarget crab to get out is to find one of the four escape rings. So that pot is likely to have quite a bit of juvenile and female crab in it,” Nichols explained. “If you have a pot with web that’s really big mesh, a lot of that small crab is going to walk right through and you’ll end up with a pot that’s a lot cleaner.” Another factor is how long the pots are soaked. “If you’re turning the pots twice a day, you’re not really giving the crab enough time to filter out of the escape mechanisms. Whereas if you only pull it once a day, potentially crab have up to 24 hours to find one of those rings and get out of the pot. Cleaner fishing is better for everyone and those escaped crab are for the next few years of fishing. It’s the future of the resource.” Nichols added. All pots in Alaska also are required to use twine that is biodegradable to allow crabs to escape in the event of lost gear. The crab association also plans to try and market the catch as Kodiak Tanner crab highlighting the facts that it is bigger than Tanners from other Alaska regions and caught by local fishermen. More Fish Board juggling – The state Board of Fisheries meetings are not only dealing with COVID derailments, but also with conflicts from fishery openers. Increasing COVID rates caused the board to postpone its meeting set for Jan. 4-15 in Ketchikan, where it planned to address 157 Southeast and Yakutat fish and shellfish proposals, and move it to March 10-22 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Those dates occur at the same time that halibut, sablefish and herring fisheries will be underway, and the busy Southeast troll fishery for winter king salmon is wrapping up. “It leaves trollers with a really no-win choice of staying in town or going to Anchorage or getting that last trip in between the 10th and the 15th of March, which last year was the most lucrative trip of the winter season,” Matt Donohoe told KFSK in Petersburg. To accommodate the tail end of the troll fishery, the Fish Board will take up salmon-related commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use proposals from March 18-22. “Placing salmon-related issues at the end of the meeting also better aligns participants with the board’s Hatchery Committee, which was and remains scheduled in Anchorage on a new date of March 23,” said board director Glenn Haight in announcing the changes. The tentative order to accommodate other fishing openers is March 10-13 for herring and March 14-17 for groundfish and shellfish. In recognition of the difficulties for some Southeast residents to travel to Anchorage, the board will take remote public testimony at select Fish and Game Southeast offices. Locations will be announced prior to the meeting but people wishing to testify remotely must sign up by March 3. An online registration platform will soon be posted on the Fish Board meeting page. The board also has rescheduled its statewide shellfish meeting to March 26-April 2 in Anchorage, where it will consider 45 proposals. The meetings are open to the public and a live audio stream will be available on the Fish Board website. Written comments for the Southeast meeting has been extended and can be submitted by email at [email protected] by Feb. 23. Seafood again sets sales records - Sales of frozen and fresh seafood in the U.S. hit all-time highs in 2021, primarily driven by inflation. SeafoodSource reports that retail sales surpassed 2019 and 2020 as more Americans opted for seafood due to its proven health benefits. Data from market trackers IRI and 210 Analytics showed fresh fish sales climbed 6.4% in 2021 compared to 2020 and a whopping 25.5% versus 2019, topping $7 billion. Fresh shellfish sales rose 0.5% versus 2020 and 37.6% from 2019. Frozen seafood sales rose 2.8% compared to 2020 and soared by nearly 41% from 2019, reaching $7.2 billion. Sales of canned or other “shelf-stable” seafood declined 11.4% in 2021; however, the category still produced $2.5 billion for the year. The consumer price index increased 6.8% through November 2021, the highest since June 1982, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In December 2021, the average price per unit across all food and beverage sales was up 8.3% compared to December 2020. Frozen seafood prices rose 4.2% per unit and 5.7% per volume for the year. Fresh seafood prices increased 6.8% in 2021 and dollar sales increased 1.8%. “Robust demand got fresh seafood very close to the ‘new record’ finish line and inflation pushed it to new records,” said Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics. Fish watch - The largest harvest ever of 45,164 tons (90.3 million pounds) is set for the 2022 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, which typically opens in March. Likewise, a record 65,107 tons of roe herring (130.2 million pounds) can be taken at Togiak in Bristol Bay, the state’s largest herring fishery that usually begins in May.

Fish Factor: Cod, rockfish season opens in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea

Wow, there is a lot of fishing going on across Alaska! Salmon is the heart of Alaska’s seafood industry, but winter is when the fishing action really begins. Hundreds of boats are out on the water on the first day of each new year, beginning a predictable rhythm for the seafood industry as millions of pounds of fish begin to cross the docks around the clock at Alaska’s working waterfronts. Here’s a sampler: Starting Jan. 1, boats drop pots and baited lines for cod, rockfish and other whitefish in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. Alaska pollock, the nation’s largest food fishery, opens to trawl fishing on Jan. 20. A Tanner crab fishery opens on Jan. 15 at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula with a combined catch of 1.8 million pounds. Tanner crab and golden king crab fisheries open in Southeast Alaska on Feb. 11. A Tanner crab fishery also opens in Prince William Sound on March 1. Bering Sea crabbers are fishing for Tanners and golden king crab and will start dropping pots for snow crab this month. Southeast divers are wrapping up a nearly 1.9-million-pound sea cucumber harvest; divers also are still digging up giant geoduck clams in some regions. Trollers are pulling up Chinook salmon in a fishery that will close on March 15. They’ve taken 6,219 winter kings so far, each valued at $122.43. Halibut watch - Pacific halibut catches for 2022 will be announced at the annual International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting held online Jan. 24-28, and fishermen are hoping for another year of increased catches when the fishery opens in early March. Last year’s coastwide catch limit was 39 million pounds for fisheries spanning from California and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. Alaska always gets the lion’s share and in 2021fishermen holding shares of the catch took 93% of their 18.5-million-pound limit by the time the fishery closed on Dec. 7, one month longer than usual. Homer, Seward, Kodiak and Juneau and Sitka were top ports for halibut landings. The average price paid to Alaska fishermen for halibut in 2021 was $6.40/lb bringing the fishery value to $109,129,240, according to NOAA data. That compares to a 2020 dock price of $4.12/lb and a fishery value of $61,778,449. COVID cans Ketchikan - The Covid pandemic has derailed the AK Board of Fisheries meeting that planned to meet in-person from Jan. 4-15 in Ketchikan. The Board oversees management of Alaska commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in state waters out to three miles. The meeting, set to address 157 Southeast and Yakutat fishery issues, has been “postponed to a future date and location to be determined” according to Doug Vincent-Lang, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner in a press release. “Cases in Southeast are increasing in almost every community. With the rise in cases post the holiday season, already key staff have contracted COVID-19 and are unable to participate. In addition, the nation and Alaska are facing serious transportation difficulties as weather and the pandemic are seriously hampering travel in the near-term,” Glenn Haight, BOF Executive Director said in the announcement. Adding to the challenge is the resignation of newest BOF member, Indy Walton of Soldotna, who Gov. Dunleavy appointed last September. Walton named “medical issues and his busy business schedule as considerations in his decision.” Walton was named to the BOF by Gov. Dunleavy nearly three months beyond a legal deadline, and he was not yet approved by the Alaska legislature. He has fished for salmon commercially for nearly 40 years at Kodiak and Bristol Bay and also owns a fishing lodge on the Kvichak River. Nominations for Walton’s seat will be accepted until Dunleavy names his appointment, said deputy director of communications, Jeff Turner. The appointee must then be approved by the Alaska Legislature. Good global outlook - “A Rising Tide” for seafood sales is predicted by the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (EXIM) in a report that outlines performance and opportunities. Driving the push is people worldwide recognize the health benefits of seafood, said Jane Lemons, Business Development Specialist for the Office of Small Business at EXIM, an independent federal agency whose mission is “to support American jobs by facilitating U.S. exports.” Seafood consumption is now growing faster than beef, chicken, and pork; in 2018, the global per capita average was 45.2 pounds per year, and it’s predicted to reach 47.4 pounds in 2030. As populations — and popularity — continue to grow, EXIM projects global seafood sales will reach nearly $140 billion by 2027 (compared to $113.2 billion in 2020). Fisheries based in the U.S. exported $4.5 billion in seafood products totaling nearly three billion pounds in 2020. (Of that, 2.2 billion pounds came from Alaska. Seafood has been Alaska’s top export for decades averaging $3.3 billion annually - over half of the state’s total annual export value.) Top international buyers of U.S. seafood in 2020 included Canada, China and Japan. The bestselling products were live lobster, Alaska pollock surimi, frozen fillets and roe, and frozen sockeye salmon. “As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic and consumer demand continues to evolve, the potential remains for increased export sales in the future,” Lemons wrote. China, for example, cannot meet the demand of its 1.4 billion people and “this misalignment will only increase as years go by, offering substantial opportunities for export sales.” Southern European countries such as Spain, Italy, and France are excellent trade partners because, in addition to their high consumption rates, they are also Europe’s major processing nations and re-export to other destinations. “Fisheries would be wise to consider well located trade hubs, including Hong Kong, which re-exported over 40% of all agricultural products, or the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium, which act as a gateway to the rest of mainland Europe,” Lemons said. She also touted Canada as the United States’ largest export market for agricultural and related products, including fish and seafood. “The U.S.-Canada open trade border provides opportunities for cross-border collaboration between businesses, and as a result, the two countries maintain the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship,” the EXIM report said.

Fish Factor: Picks and Pans for 2021

Since 1991 the weekly Fish Factor column has highlighted Alaska’s seafood industry with its annual “Picks and Pans” - a no holds barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst happenings, and my choice for the year’s biggest fish story. Here are the choices for 2021, in no particular order - Most business potential - Seaweed mariculture. The market value of U.S. seaweed is pegged at $41 billion by 2031. Driving the demand is increased use in pharmaceuticals, health supplements, as a natural thickening agent and in animal feeds. Best fish invention - Lightweight, collapsible slinky pots for catching black cod that solve the problem of whales stripping as much as 75% of the pricey fish from longline hooks. Biggest fish booster - The Covid pandemic continues to push record sales of all seafood with no end in sight. Pre-Covid, most Americans only ate fish and shellfish at restaurants. Now they are buying seafood to cook at home; Online sales also have soared and are expected to grow. Best fish fighters - Reps. Sarah Vance of Homer, Kevin McCabe of Big Lake, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka. They’ve put partisan politics aside to protect Alaska’s fishery resources. Best fish knowledge builders - Alaska Sea Grant Best fish feeder - Sea Share, with over 250 million fish servings to U.S. food bank networks since 1994. Loudest fish sucking sound - The bulk of Alaska’s catches and revenues go to Washington state residents, who in 2020 took home a .78 share of the $981 million dockside value of all groundfish caught in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Seattle is home port to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their livings in Alaska. Most wasted fish opportunity - Not utilizing the three billion pounds of fish heads, skins, oils, innards, shells, etc. that are discarded after processing. Using such “wastes” could add an additional $700 million or more each year in value to Alaska. Cod skins, for example, produce about 11% collagen; nearly 20% for salmon skins. Speaking of which … Biggest fish WTF? - Icelandic company Kerecis received a third six-figure grant from the U.S. Defense Department to create bandages from intact cod skins. The collagen and omega 3s promote regrowth of healthy human tissue. 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, meal and fertilizer. Best little known fish fact - Alaska’s commercial fisheries division budget also pays for the management of subsistence and personal use fisheries. Best Alaska ocean watchers - Alaska Ocean Observing System – sea ice, water temperatures, ocean acidification levels, AOOS tracks it all. Best daily fish news sites - SeafoodNews.com, Undercurrent News, SeafoodSource Best healthy fish watchers - Cook Inletkeeper, SalmonState Best mainstream fish pushers - Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP) Best fishcrat - Sam Rabung, ADF&G director of the commercial fisheries division Fish head scratcher - Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle? University of Alaska’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Fairbanks? How much budget is spent on getting scientists/student to and from the far away sea life they are studying? Best go to bat for their fishery - Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, funded by a 1% tax on fishermen’s catches. Partnerships with Seattle’s new Kraken hockey team, Bambino’s Baby Food and snazzy, non-stop annual promotions at targeted U.S. regions push the “brand.” Worst ongoing fish inequity - The U.S. continues to buy millions of pounds of seafood from Russia while that country has banned purchases of U.S. seafood since 2014. Russian seafood imports to the U.S. since than have increased by nearly 175%. Best fish planet advocate - Net Your Problem by Nicole Baker-Loke which has so far facilitated the recycling of more than one million pounds of Alaska fishing nets and gear from Southeast to Dutch Harbor. The plastic gear is remade into pellets and fibers and turned into new products. Biggest fish fakes - Plant-based seafoods such as “vegan shrimp” and “Toona.” Also, after nearly three decades of roadblocks, five tons of genetically modified salmon (Frankenfish) was sold by restaurant supplier Samuels and Son Seafood of Philadelphia. Up next- fish fillets grown in labs from their own cells will hit U.S. markets in 2022. The growers tout cell-grown seafood as having no environmental pollutants such as mercury or microplastics, with a longer shelf life and no genetic engineering. Best AK fish writers - Elizabeth Earl, AK Journal of Commerce, Margie Bauman, Cordova Times. Worst fish travesty - Cuts to commercial, sport and subsistence catches while millions of halibut get dumped as bycatch in bottom trawl fisheries. Alaska can’t lay claim to having the “world’s most sustainably managed fisheries” until it gets its bycatch act in order. Best fish assists - Every one of the biologists across the state at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Best building future fishermen - Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Crew apprenticeships, fishing loans with pay back based on catches, collaborative research are some ALFA initiatives for young fishing entrants. Fishing towns that celebrates their fishing industry the most - Sitka, Cordova Fishing town that celebrates its fishing industry the least - Kodiak Best fish boosters - Alaska’s salmon hatcheries Baddest fish idea - Over one million acres opened to oil/gas lease sales at Lower Cook Inlet, one of the most widely used areas for tourism, sport and commercial fishing. Does fish best with least - The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute promotes wild-caught fish/shellfish in the U.S. and around the world with zero funding from the state. In contrast, Norway backs its seafood marketing with over $50 million from a small tax on exports. Best fish life savers - Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) Most disliked fish moniker - The term ‘fisher’ is a well-intentioned attempt to be gender neutral. Nearly all fishermen hate it. “Harvester” is a good fit. 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. Biggest fish health failure - U.S. baby food makers who provide ZERO seafood offerings (see above). Most inaccurate fish gaffe - “Official” trade data from the U.S. Trade Representative that still lists “petroleum and coal” as Alaska’s top export. Seafood has been Alaska’s top export by far for decades but the word does not appear anywhere on the trade list. Alaska’s other “top manufacturing exports” are transportation equipment, computer and electronic products and machinery. Top agricultural items are plant and livestock products, feeds and grains, beef and veal. Who knew? Best fish breaking ranks - New Peter Pan Seafoods set a pricing record in mid-May by offering $12.60/lb for sockeyes and $19.60/lb for Chinook at Copper River. Peter Pan and Silver Bay set a base sockeye price at $1.25 at the start of the Bristol Bay fishery. Fishermen typically wait weeks or months before knowing what they will be paid for their catch. Tough way to run a business. Most ominous fish sign - Since 2010 Alaska salmon have been getting smaller. That’s based on 60 years of measurements from 12.5 million salmon across Alaska, excluding pinks. Chinook have shrunk the most averaging an 8% decline, followed by reductions of 3.3% in cohos, 2.4% in chums and 2.1% for sockeyes. Best fish recyclers - Grundens is using recycled plastics from old fishing nets in its rugged wear - the first batch contained fibers from recycled Cordova nets. Grundéns also is using 100% biodegradable packaging. OBI Seafoods, which operates 10 Alaska processing plants, also is using 100% recyclable packaging on all of its canned salmon brands. Best nonstop fish entrepreneurs - Tidal Vision’s new creation Tidal-Tex is replacing metals and chemicals commonly dosed on carpets, clothing, furniture, mattresses, mops, etc. The all-natural liquid protectant is derived from chitosan, a biopolymer found in crab shells. Leigh Fibers, one of the nation’s largest and oldest textile manufacturers, is now using Tidal-Tex, whose origins come from Alaska crab shells sourced at St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea. Biggest fish story for 2021 - Returns of Chinook and chum salmon to the Yukon River were so low that local residents were not allowed to catch a single fish for their subsistence needs. While Chinook numbers have been declining for years, people fear the sudden loss of the more reliable chums is “the canary in the coal mine.” “All of those who have a stake or interest in the Bering Sea should be paying attention to what’s happening within the Yukon River to figure out what’s going on with the salmon. We are experiencing and witnessing a devastating subsistence fishery. And we really don’t know why,” said Vivian Korthuis, head of the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents. “This is a warning shot that we have been anticipating. And we want answers as to why it is the way it is.”

Fish Factor: Alaska U.S. senators propose task force to better understand salmon declines

The Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act was introduced in Congress last week by Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. It aims to gain better understanding about causes of salmon declines, especially in the Northwest regions. The task force of up to 19 people would conduct a comprehensive review of salmon science and management in Alaska. The bill also would establish a working group focused on salmon returns in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region of Western and Interior Alaska. The group would include members from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the Pacific Salmon Commission, and two to five Alaska representatives including subsistence and commercial or recreational users, five academic salmon experts and one state representative appointed by the governor. Within one year, the group would publish a report identifying knowledge and research gaps and would advance policies that might result in more salmon abundance and stability. The action follows a salmon roundtable discussion the Alaska congressional delegation hosted two weeks ago with tribal leaders and state fishery managers and scientists. Many agreed there is a need for better data, but most called for action. “We don’t have time to sit on our hands and wait for these research projects to start and finish. Precautionary management needs to happen now. Adaptive management needs to happen now,” said Mary Peltola, director of the Kuskokwim Inter-tribal Fish Commission. Managers need to look at salmon habitat in rivers and oceans in a more holistic way, Peltola said, pointing to policies that allow large ocean vessels to capture chinook and chum salmon as bycatch while local river residents are not allowed any fish. “We have got to find a way where we manage as a whole system and not these silly, man-made jurisdictional issues,” she added. “And the fact that the Department of Fish and Game says their hands are tied when it comes to salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea, because that’s under the purview of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council -- having both agencies pointing at the other is unfair to all of the users.” In announcing the task force, Sen. Sullivan said: “Our existing management system, with the state’s authority to manage Alaska’s salmon harvest and the federal government managing federal fishery salmon harvest and much of the at-sea research, has created a clear gap in research and research prioritization that urgently needs to be addressed.” Murkowski has dedicated a line and a questionnaire for public comments through Jan. 14. Meanwhile, a group of Alaska tribes and groups representing Bering Strait communities has filed an emergency petition with the U.S. secretary of commerce to eliminate chinook salmon bycatch and cap the number of chums taken by trawl gear. Under current rules, the pollock fleet in 2022 is allowed to take up to 45,000 chinook salmon and an unlimited number of chum salmon while no salmon is available for local subsistence harvests. “Our salmon runs and our communities are at the breaking point. We can’t risk the chance of high bycatch in these dire times. We need to do everything possible to save our chinook and chum salmon runs, and we all need to do our part to restore our salmon runs, and eliminating bycatch is critical,” said Brooke Woods of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Petitioners also include Nome-based Kawerak Inc., the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the Bering Sea Elders Group, and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Salmon sperm spawns plastic, LEDs – Salmon sperm is being used to make biodegradable plastic cups in China. Researchers at Tianjin University created the item by extracting DNA from salmon sperm and dissolving it in water with molecules commonly found in adhesives. It produces a gel that can be made into various forms and freeze-dried. The bio-plastic can be created from genetic material from any living things, the researchers said. Other applications for the substance include electronics and packaging. Salmon sperm also made headlines a few years ago for its ability to intensify LED lights that are used today in products from digital clocks to home lighting and electronics. Dr. Andrew Steckl at the University of Cincinnati, one of the world’s leading experts in photonics, collaborated with Air Force scientists to make a first bio-LED device. Steckl said the magic stems from the double helix shape of salmon DNA. “The double helix has some interesting properties in regard to light emission which is not well known by the general public but is known by some practitioners,” he explained. “Because of the way it is shaped, you can insert light emitting molecules within it that operate more efficiently than in other host materials.” The sperm comes from wild salmon from Japan, where it is widely harvested for its DNA, Steckl said. In the case of LEDs, it is refined into pure fibers and made into thin films of tightly controlled dimensions that produce light. Steckl said the organic material is abundant and readily available for other uses. “To me it is a powerful argument that we have one of the biggest and most competitive industries in America in agriculture and fishing and it produces a huge amount of biomaterials which can be used in many different ways,” he said, adding that they also reduce the need for heavy metals or other hazardous materials. “This is not the sort of material that people have a lock on -- in other words, it’s not a mine somewhere in some country that produces a particular metal,” he said. “People in the semiconductor and in flat panel display industries are quite concerned that certain specialty metals that are critical to device fabrication are going to begin to run out. And this is not 100 years from now, this is maybe less than 10 years from now. Fish grants - NOAA Fisheries/Alaska Region has launched a new web page dedicated to sharing Alaska Aquaculture Grant Opportunities. The page will provide up-to-date information on funding opportunities for aquaculture stakeholders in many categories. Also included on the new webpage are writing resources to help improve grant applications.

FISH FACTOR: Demand for Alaska sockeye has pushed prices to near record highs

Strong global and U.S. demand for sockeye salmon has pushed prices to near record highs and boosted fishermen’s paychecks. Silver Bay and Peter Pan Seafoods a few weeks ago increased their base prices to fishermen to $1.45 per pound, a 20-cent increase from the summer, and other Alaska companies are likely to follow suit. That compares to a final price in 2020 of just $1.06. “Obviously, the base price is announced earlier in the season. Now that we can see where sales are going and really have a confident look, we’re excited to celebrate that with our fleet,” Abby Frederick, a spokesperson for Silver Bay, told KDLG in Dillingham. Alaska’s total 2021 sockeye catch was 57 million fish, with a preliminary value topping $361 million – more than 56% of Alaska’s total dockside value. Over 42 million of the reds came from Bristol Bay, worth more than $248 million to fishermen before final settlements are paid out next year. Most of Alaska’s fish goes to market frozen, headed and gutted, and strong demand by global buyers pushed wholesale prices for Bristol Bay sockeyes this summer to $4.37 a pound, up $1.07 from last summer. Sockeye fillets were wholesaling at $6.61 a pound and averaging $12.94 at retail counters this fall, up nearly a dollar from a year ago. The market is tight, which underscores increased demand, said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Bristol Bay’s sockeye run this year set a record, topping 71 million fish. The run is projected to be even bigger in 2022 and could mean a catch of 60 million fish. “It’s the largest we’ve ever forecasted,” said biologist Greg Buck at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Wink told SeafoodSource: “If you lined those fish up nose to tail, that’s enough to encircle the entire Lower 48 twice.” Fish profile - Bycatch will continue to dominate headlines as more Alaskans and lawmakers engage like never before. The increased awareness can be credited in great part to one man from Homer. “If we don’t step up and keep an eye out for it now, who will? It seemed like all the Alaskan resources were infinite for so long, but now we’re coming up to where fisheries are being shut down. It’s either step up or step out of the way,” said David Bayes, a longtime charter operator who said the waste and habitat damage by trawlers made him step up. Bayes has used social media to educate more Alaskans via a Facebook page called “STOP Alaskan Trawler Bycatch” founded a year ago by Jody Mason of Whittier, who calls Bayes “an encylopedia.” “David Bayes has helped pivot the bycatch discussion from one of behind closed doors and buried information to mainstream Facebook posts and dinner table conversations,” said Maddie Lightsey of Alaska Boats and Permits in her weekly Fish Ticket report. In 2020, the trawl sector in Alaska took 92 million pounds of various species as bycatch, according to NOAA Fisheries data. Bayes uses NOAA fishery managers’ numbers on bycatch and fishing overages to make his points. “Every week they update and you can click and see what the new info is,” he said. “But I don’t think a lot of people have done that. Because once we started to post those numbers, we’d run into trawl captains and crews and people affiliated with the NPFMC that would say I was crazy. Those numbers are too huge. And then you show them and say, well, those are your numbers.” Bayes also has exposed how catch overage numbers are juggled and often don’t add up. “In the Bering Sea, for one example, a catcher processor trawl fleet was about five million pounds over its Pacific cod quota. You can see this progression through the year that these guys are past their cap but they adjust the quotas. And then a few weeks ago, NOAA reallocated and simply erased that overage on paper,” he explained. It was Bayes who pointed out this fall that Bering Sea trawlers are allowed more crab as bycatch than the crab fleet can take, even in the red king crab fishery that is closed for the first time in 25 years. “It’s gotten again and again to where the North Pacific Council system has said, OK, we’re going to shut directed fisheries but the trawlers can’t help it because of the gear type and they must have this quota,” he said. “That does so much to prevent the stocks from ever bouncing back. They’ve shut off directed fisheries, but the trawl fleet keeps hammering it a little bit at a time and the small local boats just sit there and twiddle their thumbs and wait.” The STOP platform has its critics. Heather Mann, director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative of Oregon, said the site “happily hosted bomb threats to individual decision makers, fishermen using gear they didn’t like and more misinformation about a very difficult topic than we’ve ever seen.” She added the platform “actively hosted and encouraged hate for fisheries, groups and individuals. It is the antithesis of civilized discourse.” Dennis Moran is president of Fishermen’s Finest, the bottom trawl fleet that starting in 2023 will be required for the first time to reduce its take of millions of pounds of halibut bycatch. [Fishery council approves new restrictions on Bering Sea trawl fleet’s incidental take of halibut] Moran added: “The Facebook page has had multiple posts calling for violence against trawl vessels. If you speak up on the page to share the truth and provide sources to accurate information, you are blocked. What Bayes posts is either purposely taken out of context or flat-out misinformation and rhetoric. They allow personal attacks on Council members and others. Let’s have a real discussion about incidental catch and the fact that incidental catch occurs in every fishery and every gear type.” Those critics are all wet, believes state Rep. Kevin McCabe of Big Lake, who calls Bayes “an honest broker.” “He takes pains to post links to his data and has often provided amplifying information,” McCabe said. “The discussion gets more complicated by the players and power brokers who seem intent on discrediting any information or purveyor of information that does not fit the narrative they are trying to sell. “I find that ‘following the money’ is the best avenue to determine the veracity of claims. When a fleet feels like they can waste $8 per pound halibut for other fish that is worth a few cents, it demonstrates the level of money involved.” McCabe added: “They come to Alaska for what are essentially Alaskan fish, they sue us to not have to pay the very small landing tax required, and then throw away five times more fish than we are allowed to keep in the state fisheries? And the regulators seem to be in collusion by hiding the true data and parsing it out to the public in differing metrics. “Half of the management council has ties to the trawl fleet that would make their participation on a state board a violation of the state ethics laws. This level of anger from Alaskans is not going to go away just because 20 boats homeported in Seattle want it to.” Bayes said he knows the trawl sector is not “going away” but believes it’s time to “tap the brakes.” Stakeholders need to come up with better fishing solutions as other states and countries have done, he said, before it’s too late. McCabe, who said he also is driven by “the total waste of the resource,” added: “I can and will work with anyone to solve problems. But the first step in resolving any problem is recognizing there is one. I am not sure that the trawl fleet thinks there is a problem.” Correction: Last week’s column incorrectly stated some catch limits and has been updated. Cod catches for 2022 in federal waters of the Gulf of Alaska were increased by nearly 40% to 54 million pounds; pollock catches were boosted to 310 million pounds, a 26% increase.

FISH FACTOR: North Pacific Fishery Management Council sets 2022 catch limits

Fisheries are driven by numbers, and there will be more ups than downs in 2022 catches for Alaska fishermen based on poundages set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The NPFMC is a federal advisory panel that has the herculean task of managing six fishery management plans (FMPs) covering 140-plus species within 47 stocks and stock complexes, including setting annual bycatch limits. Their jurisdiction includes waters from 3 to 200 miles offshore, where more than 60% of Alaska’s fish catches by volume are harvested. A .78 share of the value of those fisheries goes to nonresidents, nearly all from Washington state. Seattle is the home port to nearly 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their living in Alaska. Back to the numbers for some hallmark species: For Pacific Cod in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, the catch for next year was increased by 20% to just over 330.5 million pounds. Cod catches in federal waters of the Gulf of Alaska was increased by nearly 40% to 54 million pounds. Also getting huge hikes is the so called "head and gut" fleet of 19 Seattle-based bottom trawlers that have been making headlines for their annual takes/tossings of more than 4 million pounds of halibut bycatch (which comes off the top of all other users). The big boats, which include seven owned by Western Alaska Native groups, target flounders, cod, perch and Atka mackerel. All but one were upped by 20% or more. Their most important catch, yellowfin sole, was increased 25% to 550 million pounds. Pollock catches in the Gulf of Alaska were increased to nearly 310.5 million pounds, a nearly 26% boost. On the downside, the world’s largest food fishery – Bering Sea pollock – will be reduced by 19% next year to 2.4 billion pounds. All combined, Alaska’s state/federal fisheries produce two-thirds of the U.S. seafood harvest and Alaska is home to nine of the top 20 U.S. fishing ports by value. If it were a country, Alaska would rank 8th for wild harvests on a global scale. The 2022 catches must be approved by the U.S. Commerce Department which almost always rubber stamps the NPFMC recommendations. Fishermen enhance science - Over 100 Alaska fishermen signed on for a Skipper Science program that lets them share what they know and see out on the water. The pilot program started in June and uses a free phone app for logging real time observations. “Basically, it worked and fishermen are very well equipped to be a big part of the science and the research going on so we can better understand and manage our fisheries,” said Lindsey Bloom, director of SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP), which partnered with the St. Paul Island tribal government to run the “citizen scientist” project. The app is an offshoot of an Indigenous Sentinels Network started nearly 20 years ago at St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs to monitor wildlife and environmental conditions in the Bering Sea. “There is a vast body of deep knowledge that fishermen hold from their experiences on the water, indigenous and non-indigenous fishermen alike, that they’re using for decision-making and risk evaluation. And we have very much underutilized that knowledge for years and years, especially here in the North Pacific,” said Lauren Divine, Director of Ecosystem Conservation for St. Paul’s tribal government at the launch of the Skipper Science program. A results report showed that nearly 1,700 fisherment shared their views on ways a changing climate is affecting Alaska’s waters and habitats. Sixty-one percent said they are very or somewhat concerned about impacts to fisheries. “There’s not a fisherman out on the water who has not experienced abruptly changing conditions as a result of a changing climate,” Bloom said. “We have consistently heard that in terms of what people are feeling are the threats to their businesses and bottom lines -- climate is in the top two or three.” Nineteen diverse industry members, processors and fishing groups sponsored the science project and helped get the word out, and Bloom said it has support from fishery managers. “Absolutely. We were strongly encouraged and supported by staff at NOAA and they are pretty enthusiastic about this, and hopefully at the state level as well,” she said. Bloom is hopeful that fishermen might eventually get paid to collect and provide data. “I think there are incredible efficiencies to be gained. When you have all these small boats out on the water day in and day out, why not use them to measure and report on what’s happening,” she said. Divine added that local knowledge and experiences enhance the science provided by drones, satellites, ships and other high tech devices. “Fishermen’s input gets lost in the process and they don’t have the clout like large companies to influence decision-making,” she said. “This is a real actionable way to gather the best science, using local and traditional knowledge that provides context for all of those numbers and data and tells a story to make the case for responsible and sustainable fishery management policies.” Fish the Skipper Science report and sign on for next year at skipperscience.org. Lights save salmon - Low cost LED lights can help chinook salmon escape trawl nets. A 2020 study by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center showed that LEDs are very effective in directing chinook salmon to escape windows in trawl nets targeting Pacific hake, the largest groundfish fishery on the West Coast. which typically produces over 500 million pounds a year. The study showed that chinook salmon are much more likely to exit the nets where lights are placed — 86 percent of escaped salmon used the LED-framed openings without losing the targeted catch. “Our data and video observations indicate that at deeper, darker depths where trawl nets go, light from the LEDs are enhancing the salmon’s ability to perceive the escape areas and the areas outside the nets,” said Mark Lomeli, lead researcher at the PSMFC. Lomeli added that the lights have also proven effective at reducing bycatch of eulachon (Pacific smelt) and juvenile rockfish and flatfish in the shrimp trawl fishery off Oregon. “We also think the LEDs could be used in other fisheries — for example, in the pollock midwater trawl fishery in Alaska — to reduce chinook salmon bycatch,” Lomeli added in a NOAA release about the project. “Many fishermen are aware of this technology and use it if they think chinook bycatch will be an issue. It’s easy to use, relatively cheap, and widely available. You can easily clip the lights to the webbing of the net around the escape openings. With these research results in hand, the lights are on the shelf for them when they need them. We think these LEDs are low-hanging fruit for contributing to the recovery of this species and can also play an important role in the stability of this fishery.” Lomeli said. This video shows chinook quickly escaping a trawl net in the hake fishery.

FISH FACTOR: Tech providing solution to ‘ghost fishing’ gear

Lost fishing gear — be it nets, lines or pots — continues “ghost fishing” forever, causing a slow death to countless marine creatures and financial losses to fishermen. Now new “smart buoys” can track and monitor all types of deployed gear and report its location directly to a cell phone or website. Blue Ocean Gear of California created and builds the buoys that also can track ocean temperatures, depth, movement, even how much has been caught. The small, three-pound buoys are just seven inches in diameter, don’t require any special training to use, and are tough enough to handle the harshest ocean conditions. “All the information is collected in a database,” said company founder and CEO Kortney Opshaug. “We have both a mobile app that you can access from your phone or a web interface that allows you to see more of the data, charts and things like that. Most of the buoys have satellite transmission, but some also have radio transmission and we’re working more and more with that. They’re slightly more cost effective, and we can create networks out on the water that are talking to one another.” Opshaug and her Silicon Valley team of engineers and product developers were motivated primarily by the impacts of lost gear on the marine environment and the costs to fishermen. “As we explored the space, it became very clear that lost fishing gear was one of the most devastating issues that has both environmental impacts as well as financial impacts on the industry,” she said. “There’s about 640,000 metric tons of gear lost every year and it continues to fish. It becomes devastating for the marine ecosystems, but it’s also unlimited competition for the fishermen from their own gear that they’ve lost. Plus, they have to pay to replace that gear. So we developed our smart buoys to be able to track gear out on the water. We thought if you could track it, you’re not as likely to lose it.” Chief Business Officer Peter Macy added, “There may be a crab pot at the bottom of the ocean and a buoy at the surface, but when the tides and currents are strong, the buoy can get pulled underwater. Fishermen can’t find it and they waste a lot of time and fuel. But our device tracks the gear from the surface.” The smart buoys, which first hit the water in 2015, were tested by two vessels during the 2020-21 golden king crab season in the Aleutian Islands to help refine the software and communications settings. The automated system identified several pieces of errant gear, including a line that had severed. It allowed the recovery in real time of nearly 100 pounds of floats and lines that would otherwise have been lost. “Real time alerts are the difference between an 8-day trip and a 14-day trip,” said one of the skippers in a case study testimonial on the Blue Ocean Gear website, adding that “the time saved per string of gear was about seven hours.” “The main goal is to help fishermen fish more, and fish more sustainably,” said Macy. The smart buoys also are being used in Alaska’s halibut fishery and a first order has come from a Southeast kelp farm, Macy said, crediting assists from the Alaska Ocean Cluster. The buoys also are in use on the east coast, Canada, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Learn more at www.blueoceangear.com Bristol Bay sockeyes on ice Sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay is taking to the ice at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena in a partnership with the National Hockey League’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken. Bristol Bay Native Corp., which represents 31 tribes comprising 10,000 members, also will operate a Bristol Bay Wild Market in collaboration with the fishermen funded and operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and Bristol Wild Seafood Co. BBNC purchased Blue North Fisheries and Clipper Seafoods in 2019, making that new company the largest longline Pacific cod operation in the U.S. The three organizations have come together to bring “exceptional wild Alaskan seafood and the people and rich cultural heritage of Bristol Bay to millions of Arena visitors every year,” the groups said in a press release. During every game and event held at the arena, an Alaska seafood menu will feature wild Alaska panko cod and sockeye tacos, fish n’ chips, sockeye fillet and baguette and chowders. Bristol Bay also will be splashed across hundreds of TV screens inside the arena, the LED side rings, on the main scoreboards and more. The marketing move follows the lead of Oregon-based Pacific Seafood, the first seafood supplier to land a sports partnership last fall with a multi-year deal with the Pac-12 Men’s basketball and football teams which includes a dozen West Coast universities. It added Pac-12 Women’s basketball earlier this year. Back on the ice rink, the Kraken team and coaching staff also will hold annual hockey camps in Alaska for kids who wouldn’t normally have exposure to the game. Getting canned Sales of canned salmon continue to surge as COVID-19-conscious consumers continue to opt for healthier, easy to use, non-perishable foods. Seafood Source highlights a new report by market tracker Fact.MR that predicts the global canned salmon market will reach $4.5 billion this year and sales will continue to grow through 2031. More global consumers also care more about where their seafood comes from, the report said, and wild Pacific salmon is the top choice, accounting for the most market share of nearly 82 percent this year. The market experts predict that overall, wild canned salmon will generate 67 percent of the total global market share and nearly 62 percent of total North American sales over the next decade. It’s good news for Alaska, which provides more than 95 percent of the nation’s wild salmon. Not surprisingly, boneless/skinless fish is the preferred canned item and those sales are expected to rise at an annual rate of nearly 7 percent through 2031. Canned pinks are expected to have the most demand with a market share this year of 34.5 percent. The market watchers also predict an upsurge in pink sales to global markets at over 7 percent per year. Canned sockeye salmon is the second-highest seller, especially in exports to Europe. Canned chums also are becoming more popular “because of their lighter oil content,” and annual sales growth is projected at 6.2 percent over the forecast period, the report said. Coho salmon also is expected to “witness lucrative growth with a rising demand across the globe” estimated at 5.5 percent per year. Alaska processer reports show that more than 81 million pounds of Alaska salmon went into cans in 2020, valued at nearly $687 million on their sales sheets. Of that, nearly 60 million pounds were pinks valued at $205 million; canned sockeye salmon topped 21 million pounds, worth over $480 million at first-wholesale. Salmon canning started in Alaska 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 Alaska’s economy is one that oil enjoys today. OBI Seafoods has been Alaska’s largest canned salmon producer for more than 100 years. John Daly, manager of U.S. canned sales, believes the canned pack has the staying power to remain as one of the state’s most well-known products. “Ever since I’ve been in the industry, I’ve heard from everybody that canned salmon is dying,” Daly said. “And here we are with record numbers.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Huge Tanner crab cohort good news for Gulf of Alaska

Unlike in the Bering Sea, there’s good news for crab in the Gulf of Alaska. A huge cohort of Tanner crab that biologists have been tracking in the Westward region for three years showed up again in this summer’s survey. “We were optimistic and we did find them again. Pretty much all the way across the board from Kodiak all the way out to False Pass we found those crab and in good quantity,” said Nat Nichols, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. The bairdi Tanners are the larger cousins of snow crab (opilio Tanners) found in the Bering Sea. “The very, very rough preliminary numbers look like we’ve at least hit the minimum abundance thresholds in all three areas of Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula,” Nichols said. “So we’re excited about that.” The last Tanner opener was in 2020 for 400,000 pounds, the minimum abundance number for a district to have a fishery. A fleet of 49 boats participated in that fishery and averaged more than $4 per pound for the harvestable male crabs that typically weigh between 2 to 4 pounds each. “A Tanner crab is getting to be legal-sized around age four or five, and then they start to die of natural causes or age out of the population by around seven or eight,” Nichols explained. “Once they start to become legal, we can expect them to hang around for potentially three years, and there’ll be more small crab behind them so you can kind of think of this as the front edge.” The new cohort, Nichols said, is one of the largest ever. It appears to be made up of two big year classes with a broad range of sizes that could support several years of fishing. “In 2019 the estimate was 223 million and then in 2020 it was down to 108 million. Every year, that number gets smaller, because there’s pretty high mortality on smaller crab. Anybody who’s cut open a halibut stomach knows that,” Nichols said. “And a lot of those are females so they won’t be in the fishery. But the male crab are getting bigger and approaching legal size. So even though you’re seeing estimates go down quite a bit, it’s still going to turn into a pretty good number of legal grab in the water.” Several more regulatory calculations must still be met as managers move their way through the survey data before a 2022 Tanner fishery gets a green light. “But based on meeting the minimal abundance thresholds it at least opens the door for a conversation about six different fisheries,” Nichols said. “And that doesn’t even include the Semedi Islands overlap section of the Kodiak District which would be open also. Under that scenario, that would be seven different sections open.” A Tanner announcement will be made in early November for the fisheries which open in mid-January. By the way, Tanner crab is always spelled with a capitol “T” because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Fishing updates Alaska’s 2021 salmon catch has topped 219 million fish, which is 15 percent better than the preseason forecast of 190 million. The two biggest moneymakers exceeded expectations the most. The sockeye haul came in at 54 million compared to the predicted 46.5 million reds. Similarly, the pink salmon catch of nearly 151 million swamped the projection by 27 million. And although the run of chum salmon was disappointing, falling about 4 million short of the 15.3 million projection, nearly 5 million chums were caught since Aug. 1, “making it one of the three largest chum harvests in the last decade,” according to fishery economist Dan Lesh at the McKinley Research Group who compiles weekly tracking reports for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The coho catch of nearly 2.3 million is 1.6 million shy of the forecast and a harvest of 244,000 chinook salmon is 25,000 less than expectations. But despite the overall bigger salmon catch, smaller fish sizes will lead to less impressive harvest totals and revenues to Alaska fishermen. Yet, with higher dock prices across the board, it will still produce a good payday. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will release the catch totals, fish prices and overall revenues by region in early October. As salmon season draws to a close, many other fall fisheries are underway or gearing up. At Southeast, beam trawlers are on the grounds for a third go at northern pink shrimp totaling 650,000 pounds in two districts. The spot shrimp fishery opens on October 1 for 457,300 pounds, and the Dungeness crab reopens that same day for a two month fishery. Southeast’s sea cucumber fishery opens to divers on October 4 with a catch of nearly 1.9 million pounds. Diving for red sea urchins also opens with a harvest set at nearly 3 million pounds. At Prince William Sound, cod opened on Sept. 1 for pot and longline gears on boats less than 50 feet, and a fishery is ongoing for 32,600 pounds of lingcod. Chignik opens to sea cucumber divers on Sept. 20 with a 15,000 pound harvest limit. Kodiak opens for cukes on Oct. 1 with a 120,000 pound catch quota, and for 20,000 pounds at the South Peninsula. Kodiak crabbers are still pulling up Dungeness crab through the end of October. That catch is at 1.3 million pounds so far. Alaska halibut fishermen have taken 70 percent of their nearly 19 million-pound catch limit with less than 6 million pounds left to go. Homer, Seward, Kodiak and Juneau are the top ports for landings and dock prices remain at over $6 per pound, topping $7 at Homer reflecting continuing high demand for fresh fish. Alaska and West Coast catches aren’t satisfying American’s appetites for halibut and trade data show that the U.S. has imported 10.3 million pounds of Atlantic halibut from Eastern Canada so far this year valued at nearly $77 million. For sablefish, just more than half of the more than 43 million-pound catch has been landed. Fishing for pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish continues throughout the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Gulf pollock fishery reopened on Sept. 1. Proposed catches for 2022 groundfish is on the agenda of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council when it meets via Zoom Oct. 6-15. Foregone fish bucks As Alaska struggles to find new sources of revenue, its leaders might look to reining in the losses from fish and crab taken in federal waters (three to 200 miles out) of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea that goes elsewhere. Data compiled by NOAA research economists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center provide a breakdown of the shares of groundfish and ex-vessel (dock side) values by vessel owner state of residency. For all groundfish taken in Alaska in 2020, a 0.78 share went to non-Alaska vessels. Examples by species show that a 0.76 share of all flatfish was taken by non-Alaska vessels, a 0.69 share of Pacific cod, 0.88 for pollock, 0.69 for all rockfish, and 0.38 for sablefish (black cod). For the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, 0.83 of all groundfish was taken by non-Alaska vessels; including a 0.70 share of cod, 0.91 of pollock and 0.71 of sablefish. The 2020 ex-vessel value of the Bering Sea groundfish catches totaled $718.2 million. It’s less of a loss in the Gulf of Alaska where in 2020, a 0.4 share of all groundfish was taken by Outside vessels including 0.4 of all flatfish, 0.15 of cod, 0.47 of Gulf pollock, and 0.34 of sablefish. The out-of-state information plus an incredible array of user friendly data is amassed by the Alaska Fisheries Information Network APEX reporting system with annual inputs from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and NOAA Fisheries. It includes Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation reports for all groundfish and crab species, numbers and types of vessels, wholesale and dockside values and prices, landings and values by fisheries, distributions of quota share holdings, harvesting and processing employment data and much more. Find it at akfin.psmfc.org/ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Unobserved crab mortality unaddressed as survey shows stock crash

Alaska’s Bering Sea crabbers are reeling from the devastating news that all major crab stocks are down substantially, based on summer survey results, and the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery will be closed for the first time in more than 25 years. That stock has been on a steady decline for several years and the 2020 harvest dwindled to just 2.6 million pounds. Most shocking was the drastic turn-around for snow crab stocks, which in 2018 showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized male crabs (the only ones retained for sale) and nearly the same for females. That year’s survey was documented as “one of the largest snow crab recruitment events biologists have ever seen,” said Dr. Bob Foy, director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Crab Plan Team. Again in 2019, the “very strong” snow crab biomass was projected at more than 610 million pounds, and the catch was set at a conservative 45 million pounds for the 2020 fishery. No Bering Sea crab surveys were done that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2021 results indicated the numbers of mature male snow crab had plummeted by 55 percent. The stock “seems to have disappeared or moved elsewhere,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. The snow crab catch for the upcoming season could be down by 70 percent and the stock could be classified as “over-fished,” she said, adding that no decisions will be made until the data undergo more scrutiny by plan team and council scientists. ABSC estimates the closure of the red king crab fishery and a reduced snow crab catch could cost harvesters far more than $100 million. The hit will be felt by roughly 70 vessels, more than 400 fishermen, and the processors and fishing communities that rely on the Bering Sea crab revenues. The crabbers want “bold action” from federal fishery managers. They are calling on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries to conserve crab habitat and spawning grounds highlighted by scientists more than 10 years ago with little resulting action. The crabbers also want managers “to create meaningful incentives to reduce crab bycatch in other fishing sectors, to reduce fishing impacts on molting and mating crab, and to estimate unaccounted for bycatch from unobserved fishing mortality from bottom and pelagic (mid-water) trawl nets, as well as pot and longline gears.” Boats fishing the Bering Sea are required to have 100 percent observer coverage to track what is retained and what is tossed over the side, but it’s what is not observed that most concerns the crabbers. And what goes unseen is not factored into stock or bycatch assessments. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing marine fisheries management in federal waters (from three to 200 miles out), defines unobserved mortality as “fishing mortality due to an encounter with fishing gear that does not result in capture of fish.” In a February letter to the NPFMC, ABSC highlighted studies showing “that 95-99 percent of crab in the path of trawl gear go under the footrope escaping capture and some portion of those likely die after contact with the fishing gear. Given this number compared to what is observed as bycatch, the potential for unobserved mortality of crab could be millions of additional pounds of dead crab bycatch.” A February report by North Pacific council scientists, which (unsuccessfully) proposed an amendment to the management plan for crab bycatch in the Bering Sea groundfish trawl fisheries, stated: “Crab may actively escape capture from trawl gear, as they can slip under the trawl itself, or over the sweeps, but the damage from the gear results in mortality or delayed mortality due to injuries. The potential for unobserved mortality of crabs that encounter bottom trawls but are not captured has long been a concern for the management of groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea.” (Witherell and Pautzke, 1997; Witherell and Woodby, 2005). The report said that “the majority of trawl caught crab PSC (prohibited species catch) occurs when vessels are targeting yellowfin sole. This is the case across all crab species.” Yellowfin sole is one of six groundfish species targeted by a cooperative of 18 to 20 bottom trawlers called the Amendment 80 fleet that includes seven vessels owned by Alaska Native Community Development Quota, or CDQ, groups. No CDQ trawl vessels have made shoreside deliveries in Alaska in the past ten years. The Amendment 80 boats, all of which are homeported in Seattle, range in length from 200 to more than 300 feet and contain processing facilities. They usually fish from late January through the fall and last year caught nearly 300 million pounds of yellowfin sole valued at 9 cents per pound. Each of the A80 boats employs six fishing crew, approximately 24 processing workers and seven other staff including officers, engineers and cooks. The council report said 69 percent of the crew (not including processing workers) reside in or near Seattle. Direct wages paid during 2018 were $46 million and $52 million to the state of Washington overall. In contrast, Alaska residents accounted for 3 percent to 8 percent of A80 crews and took home $2 million in direct wages. The Crab Plan Team met Sept. 13-16 to discuss the Bering Sea crab stock assessments and catches for the 2021-22 season will be announced prior to the Oct. 15 start of the fisheries. Reducing crab bycatch is not on the agenda. The NPFMC meets via web conference from Oct. 6-10 when it will set preliminary catch and bycatch levels for 2022. Dungeness update Southeast crabbers wrapped up an “average” Dungeness season for a two and a half month summer fishery that ended in mid-August. Preliminary numbers indicate the catch came in at half of last summer’s level, said Adam Messmer, Alaska Department of Fish and Game assistant manager for the region. “We ended up with just over 3 million pounds this season, which is right around our 10-year average. Last year was our second biggest year ever. We were kind of expecting a little bit more than what we caught this year. But we had a quite a bit of soft shell crab (newly molted) at the beginning of the summer. That accounts for the missed poundage,” he said. The 2020 Dungie catch of 6 million pounds was valued at nearly $10 million at the docks. Despite a smaller catch this summer, the harvest of the two-pounders was worth much more to the fleet of 205 permit holders. “Yep, it was our highest price ever averaging $4.27 per pound. That came out to almost a $13 million fishery. So that pencils out to about $63,000 per permit,” Messmer added. Southeast crabbers get another go when the Dungeness fishery reopens on Oct. 1. Dropping pots for Dungeness is ongoing around Kodiak and the Westward region until the end of October. Around 1.5 million pounds is likely to be the tally for 20 Kodiak boats, down about one million from last year. But the outlook is fairly optimistic said Nat Nichols, area manager for ADFG. “Here in Kodiak that makes three seasons in a row of over a million pounds. And I’ve heard some reports that there’s a lot of crab measuring going on and there’s a lot of crab that are just a little bit short of the stick. So that sort of gives optimism for next year,” he said, adding that fishermen also are encountering a lot of soft shell crab that are returned to the water. Over 415,000 pounds of Dungies have been hauled up at Chignik and Alaska Peninsula fishermen are having the region’s best catches, now at 1.3 million pounds. The Westward price is $4.35 per pound on average. Salmon watch Alaska’s salmon catch by Sept. 11 was on its way to 219 million fish, well greater than the forecast of 190 million. Pinks pushed up the number with a total harvest so far of nearly 151 million. Nearly 65 million were from Prince William Sound and over 45 million humpies were harvested at Southeast and over 26 million at Kodiak. The statewide sockeye salmon catch has topped 54 million; chums were nearing 11.5 million, cohos at 2.1 million; and 243,000 chinook salmon. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Pink surge, strong sockeye harvest beats 2021 forecast

Alaska’s 2021 salmon harvest has blown past the forecast and by Aug. 27 had topped 201 million fish, well above the 190 million projected at the start of the season. The catch was bolstered by a surge of pink salmon to the three top producing regions — Prince William Sound, Southeast and Kodiak — combined with strong landings of sockeyes. “Pink salmon runs are over 95 percent complete, based on average run timing. Effort drops off quickly this late in the season, so it is difficult to predict where that harvest will end up,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “My guess is up to another half million late-run sockeye salmon and perhaps 10 million pink salmon will be harvested. If that occurs, we will end up with around 143 million pink salmon, 54 million sockeye, and 207 million total salmon harvested. 2021 could end up being the sixth-largest sockeye and sixth- or seventh-largest pink salmon harvest on record.” Pinks are the “bread and butter” catch for Alaska salmon fishermen and total landings were approaching 137 million, well above the 124 million projected for this season. At Prince William Sound, which had a catch forecast of about 25 million pinks, nearly 62 million had crossed the docks. “Wild stocks are returning stronger than anticipated (to PWS) given the uncertainty about spawning success from the 2019 parent year which was negatively impacted by drought conditions,” said the weekly ADFG inseason summary. Southeast Alaska humpy landings had topped 40 million on a forecast of 28 million fish. At Kodiak, the pink harvest was on target to reach 22 million. The Alaska Peninsula also has had a strong catch nearing 11 million humpies. The bigger catches combined with increased prices for all salmon will mean a nice payday for Alaska fishermen, well above the $295 million from the 2020 season. Base prices for pinks were averaging 35 cents per pound, up a nickel from last year when the catch totaled about $62 million. Sockeye base prices, which last year averaged just 76 cents per pound, were at $1.25 to fishermen at Bristol Bay, making that catch worth $231 million to fishermen. The value will increase substantially as bonuses and other prices adjustments are added in. Base prices for sockeyes at Kodiak were reported at $1.45 to $1.50 and $1.75 at Southeast. For the other salmon species, chum catches had picked up and were nearing nine million on a forecast calling for 15.3 million. At Kodiak the base price for chums had doubled to 50 cents per pound and nearly doubled to 85 cents at Southeast. Coho catches typically near their peak around this time and a statewide catch of 3.8 million is predicted. For chinook salmon, the catch had topped 204,000 out of a projected 296,000 kings. The Southeast fleet of 713 trollers was averaging $6.68 per pound for chinook ($74 per fish vs. $70.42 for a barrel of oil) compared to $5.07 last year. Troll-caught cohos were fetching a whopping $2.84 per pound and $1.03 for chums, according to ADFG. Cod catch shares Fishery managers are set to implement a catch share program for cod trawlers in the Bering Sea. Shares would be divided up based on harvest history over certain years. The goal is to make the fishery safer and more valuable, and to end the race for cod that results in high bycatch levels of unwanted species. The measure has the support of the Seattle-based trade group United Catcher Boats that represents more than 70 trawlers and the Pacific Seafood Processors Association that includes eight shoreside processing companies. A low of 29 trawl boats and a high of 69 fished for Bering Sea cod each year from 2004 to 2020, according to a report by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which oversees Alaska fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore. Documents will be posted to the NPFMC website and public comments will be accepted from Sept. 17- 29. A final decision will be made at the NPFMC meeting Oct. 10-15 tentatively at the Egan Center. Fish farewells Jim Balsiger, director of NOAA Fisheries Alaska plans to retire on Nov. 30. Balsiger has headed the Alaska agency since 2000 and plans to remain in Juneau after retirement, according to the Deckboss blog. No word yet on his replacement. Frances Leach, the executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska since 2018, is leaving to launch Capitol Compass, a lobbying firm in Juneau. “I’m really excited to continue lobbying for an industry that I really have a lot of respect for. But then also be able to lobby for other things that I care about greatly like environmental issues and nonprofits,” she told KFSK in Petersburg. Prior to her role at UFA, which represents 36 member groups, Leach worked at ADFG as staff to the state Board of Fisheries. Applicants for the UFA position are being accepted through Sept. 24. Salary is dependent upon experience; lobbying records show Leach’s most recent UFA salary was $95,000. Send applications to UFA vice-president Rebecca Skinner at [email protected] Fukushima water release Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, plans to meet with fishing communities before finalizing its plans to release 250 million gallons of treated but still radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean within two years. The water has been stored in massive tanks at Tepco’s Fukushima nuclear plant that was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2011. Reuters reported that a senior official said: “We haven’t had direct consultations with fisheries regarding the discharge,” and added that the plans would be “open to public consultation.” The water, which was contaminated by melted uranium fuel from damaged reactors and is stored in huge holding tanks, is enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Tepco said it costs about 100 billion yen ($910 million) to treat and store the water and “space is running out so it needs to release it to the ocean.” The company plans to dilute the water more than 100 times with seawater to ensure it is within regulatory limits on radiation before pumping it through a tunnel under the seabed to a discharge point less than one mile offshore. The Japanese government in April called it “the most practical solution” and said “it will do its utmost to provide compensation to fishermen for any damages.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Bambino’s features Bristol Bay in latest offerings

Nutrition, Native ways and knowing where your fish comes from. That multi-message forms the nexus of a new partnership of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., salmon fishermen and Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage. Bambino’s launched the nation’s first subscription service with home delivery of frozen baby foods in 2015, and was the first to bring the frozen option to U.S. retail baby food aisles (devoid of seafood). Wild Alaska seafood has always been front and center on the Bambino menu since the launch of its baby-sized, star-shaped Hali-Halibut portions, sockeye salmon bisque and fillets in 2015. Sockeye salmon teething strips are the newest addition. Those items became an instant hit and are shipped to customers in U.S. and in Canada. Each outgoing box now contains recipes from the people of Bristol Bay, stories of how traditional foods are rooted in Alaskan culture and other information about the region provided by the new outreach network. “We’re looking forward to partnering with Bambino’s and (Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association) to share the stories of why salmon is so crucial to our region and our shareholders,” said Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp. “Salmon is a fundamental part of our cultures and our values, from protecting the waters they spawn in to ensuring our shareholders are able to fill their freezers every year.” “We want to ensure that people everywhere and of all ages not only reap the nutritional benefits of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon but are also aware of the origin and sustainability of the region,” said Lilani Dunn, marketing director of BBRSDA, operated and funded by the fleet of nearly 1,800 driftnet fishermen by a 1 percent tax on their catches. “Bambino’s has really built up her business and her brand and it was no secret that her sockeye product was performing really well. And we saw a huge opportunity to tell our stories focusing on the Native families and culture of Bristol Bay and for ourselves in the marketing program,” Dunn said. “I feel very passionate, along with our partners, about the nutritional benefits of sockeye salmon, especially in young infants and toddlers.” “The beautiful nature of all of this is that we all care about our environment and the health and wellness of our families, and we all want to know where our food comes from,” said Bambino’s founder and CEO Zoi Maroudas. “It just brings a lot of depth to the Bristol Bay region to have the synergy between BBNC and ourselves and to work with an Alaska company,” added BBRSDA’s Dunn. “It’s definitely something special and I’m really excited for it.” Bambino’s was selected as Alaska Manufacturer of the Year in 2018. All of its products are produced in Anchorage and can be found at Carrs/Safeway and other grocers throughout Southcentral Alaska and on Amazon. Good news for Gulf sea creatures Results from the most detailed, long-term cruise by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks showed the largest concentrations of phytoplankton ever seen in nearly 25 years of sampling in a vast portion of the Gulf of Alaska. Phytoplankton (microalgae) is the base of marine food webs and the massive bloom was spotted in May through September along the Seward Line, a transect of survey stations that begins at the mouth of Resurrection Bay and continues south to the outer edge of the continental shelf. A funding boost from the National Science Foundation added additional lines from the Copper River to beyond Middleton Island, and from Kodiak’s Albatross Bank to offshore waters. The researchers use chlorophyll, the green pigment found in plants, as an indicator of phytoplankton abundance, explained Russ Hopcroft, professor and Chair of the Department of Oceanography at UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. “It is the peak production in this system that the whole biology of the Gulf kind of cascades off of, that big infusion of energy and matter into it,” Hopcroft said. “Normally the shelf kind of lights up in terms of algal concentration briefly and sporadically. But this past year, the whole shelf was lit up with high chlorophyll for several weeks continuously, which means that there should have been lots of food available for the things that feed upon the plankton, the fish that feed upon that and then the bigger fish, marine mammals and seabirds that use them. We’ve never seen this kind of concentration of the phytoplankton in the system.” “In the Gulf, because it’s such a seasonal environment, several of the main species rely on this bloom to grow rapidly and store fat up in their bodies, just like bears do. And then they descend deep in the ocean to wait for the following spring to start their life cycle when they lay eggs. And those babies swim up toward the surface and start the whole process over again.” Alaska’s cooler weather this spring and summer can lead to a prolonged bloom, and extra rain provides fresh water at the ocean surface that helps phytoplankton remain closer to the light and build up higher concentrations. Hopcroft said this year “looks like it should translate to a lot of energy into the system” and hopefully allow a few things to bounce back that were impacted by the extreme marine heatwave several years ago that caused, for example, Gulf cod stocks to collapse. “I think our expectation would be that the success of animals released into the Gulf system this year will be higher than what we’ve seen during some of these warmer periods,” he said. “One would hope that we would see that translate into recruitment of various types of fisheries in the next couple of years.” Fake fish update Long John Silver’s is the first major national seafood chain to put plant-based seafood analogs on its menu, and calls it the “next big wave” after seeing the success of plant-based burgers and chicken. Analogs are manufactured substances that are used in place of the real thing. Last month the company, operator of over 700 restaurants in the U.S., announced a partnership with Good Catch to test its plant-based Breaded Fish-Free Fillet and Breaded Crab-Free Cake at restaurants in California and Georgia. “Our plant-based options are slightly more expensive than the crab cakes and sustainably sourced wild-caught cod, pollock, and salmon that make up our core menu options,” LJS Chief Marketer Stephanie Mattingly told SeafoodSource, adding that the plant-based seafood market is projected to grow $1.3 billion over the next decade. Whole Foods Market, owned by Amazon, said that nearly half of U.S. consumers are looking for plant-based products, and fish alternatives are on its first ever list of trend predictions. One is Upton’s Naturals Banana Blossom, large, purple-skinned flowers that grow at the end of a banana bunch. Their neutral flavor and flaky texture make it an ideal fish substitute. Another predicted favorite is Good Catch Fish-Free Tuna made of a blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans. Samuels and Son Seafood of Philadelphia is the first company to publicly admit that it is selling a genetically tweaked Atlantic salmon made by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts. The wholesale restaurant supplier services several chains including McCormick and Schmicks, Morton’s Steakhouse and The Hard Rock Café. The fish, which grows roughly three times faster than normal salmon, is the first genetically modified animal to be approved by the federal government for human consumption. More than 80 food companies including Safeway,Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have said they will refuse to carry it. Federal labeling law “directs” companies to disclose genetically modified ingredients through use of a QR code, on-package wording, or a symbol. Mandatory compliance takes effect in January 2022, but the rules don’t apply to restaurants or providers of meals away from home. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: New tech shows promise against bycatch; more relief grants open

Bycatch gives Alaska’s otherwise stellar fisheries management its biggest black eye. The term refers to unwanted sea creatures taken in trawls, pots, lines and nets when boats are going after other targeted catches. Bycatch is the bane of existence for fishermen, seafood companies and policy makers alike, yet few significant advances have been found to mitigate the problem. A simple fix has recently shed light on a solution. “Ten underwater LED lights can be configured to light up different parts of the fishing gear with six different colors, intensity and flash rates to attract, repel or guide fish through the gear while retaining the target catches,” said Dan Watson, CEO and co-founder of SafetyNet Technologies based in the U.K which provides its Pisces light system to fisheries around the globe. “The different light characteristics affect different species in different ways,” he added. “For instance, green light is really effective for reducing turtle bycatch in gillnets. Blue lights flashing at a particular rate can deter haddock and drive them away. This programmability means that you can use it for a number of different species and in different circumstances as well.” The Pisces lights are powered by a wireless charger, require no plugs or batteries, automatically turn on underwater only when needed, and they do not weaken or weigh down nets. Watson began working on the lights in 2009 when he was a student at Glasgow University and doing research with the Aberdeen Marine Laboratory. “They had a paper that had been in their library for about 40 years from a researcher who had been shining flashlights into fish tanks and seeing that some species would react quite strongly, some would come towards them, some would move away, and others just weren’t bothered at all,” he said. After working in partnership with scientists and fishermen, the first batch of Pisces lights was tested in 2015 in fisheries in Europe and the and usage has since spread to the U.S. and other regions. A 2015-18 study on small-scale fishing vessels in Peru, for example, showed that LED lights on gillnets reduced bycatch of sea turtles in gillnet fisheries by more than 70 percent and over 66 percent for dolphins and porpoises, while not reducing the take of target species. The lights also reduced bycatch of seabirds in gillnets by about 85 percent. The study, by the University of Exeter and the conservation organization ProDelphinus, concluded that “Sensory cues — in this case LED lights — are one way we might alert such species to the presence of fishing gear in the water.” In the scallop fishery in the Irish Sea, use of Pisces lights reduced bycatch of haddock by 47 percent and flatfish by 25 percent with no effects on the take of scallops. A 2020 study by Mark Lomeli of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission in collaboration with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center showed that lights directed chinook salmon to escape panels in trawl nets in the Pacific hake fishery, the largest groundfish fishery on the West Coast. Eighty-six percent of escaped chinook used the well-lit, LED-framed openings and the data suggest the lights can increase salmon escapes overall. And since 2018, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has required the use of lighting devices on the footropes of shrimp trawls. Sea trials showed that bycatch of eulachon was reduced by over 90 percent by weight, juvenile rockfish takes dropped by 78 percent, flatfish bycatch was reduced by nearly 70 percent and the loss of targeted shrimp was statistically non-significant at 0.7 percent. “You don’t need the lights to cover the entire panel on a massive net, it might be that you put them along the foot rope or the headline or even potentially in the wings,” Watson explained. “We generally supply fishing vessels with around 10 lights and a couple of charging cases to keep them going. Rather than hundreds of lines, we’re talking in the order of 10s, so that you can cover a sufficient area in the right place for it to be effective.” Watson believes the lights will eventually be mandated in other fisheries around the world. “In Europe we’re working with agencies to try and get the required scientific evidence for them to start to legislate the use of lights,” he said. “It’s still sort of in the early days in that respect despite really compelling results since 2015. It takes a while to get into that adoption phase and that’s where we’re working at the moment. “I think the fishing sector has a massive part to play and how it’s shaped and actually introduced. We’re increasingly seeing that as technology is being developed and becoming more accessible, fishing crews are coming up with really great ideas to change how their fisheries are operating, and working collaboratively with science as well.” Since May, the SafetyNet Tech team has been collaborating with the Alaska Ocean Cluster, or AOC, a project of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, to identify captains and vessel owners interested in bringing the light show to Alaska, particularly aboard Bering Sea trawlers. “They’re an amazing representative for us in Alaska, because not only can they help us learn more about the fishing industry there but introduce us to people and start those relationships going,” Watson said. “It’s kind of like having two extra people on our team, which is amazing when you’re a startup because we’re always looking for extra support and they’ve definitely offered it.” “SNTech is a great example of the opportunities we’re seeing across the seafood and marine technology landscape,” said Garrett Evridge, AOC managing director of research and administration. Taylor Holshouser, AOC managing director of business development, echoed that enthusiasm adding, “We’re excited to see what Dan and his team can do to help fishermen reduce fuel costs, save time, and reduce bycatch, particularly in the Bering Sea.” Questions? Contact [email protected] or [email protected] More COVID-19 funds Alaska fishermen and other businesses can soon apply for a new $90 million pool of COVID-19 pandemic money that will be distributed by the state. Grant money for the program comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development announced last week that applications will open sometime this fall and recipients will be chosen “based on demonstrated need.” Eligible fishing businesses include commercial fishermen who held a limited entry permit or interim entry permit in 2019 and 2020. Applicants must be based in Alaska, have revenue between $10,000 and $50 million in 2019, filed taxes in 2019 and 2020, and be able to show they lost at least 50 percent of their net income as a result of the pandemic. Nonprofits are not eligible to apply. Applications will be split into three groups, based on the size of their businesses. Each group will be eligible for up to 80 percent of their documented income loss, up to $250,000, $500,000 or a cap of $1 million. All applicants will be required to say how they intend to spend the money, which will be distributed as a grant that does not have to be repaid. The funds must be spent on past, current, or future business costs and may not be retained or invested. Grant recipients also will be required to spend the funds by a certain unspecified date, likely by next fall, or return any unused money. Initial proposals called for a larger grant program, reported the Anchorage Daily News, but the Alaska Legislature instead used money from the act to fund infrastructure projects and make more money available for the 2021 Permanent Fund dividend, the amount of which has yet to be determined. Find more information at the state Commerce Department website. Fish board line up The state Board of Fisheries is planning on in person meetings this fall after months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By this past March, the board was scheduled to have finished up 275 proposals for Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish fisheries. The meeting cycle addresses management issues for commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in state waters for specific regions every three years. A work session is set for Oct. 20-21 at the Anchorage Egan Center, followed by a week-long meeting focusing on Prince William Sound and Upper Copper and Susitna Rivers from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 at the Cordova Center. The Fish Board will move to Ketchikan from Jan. 4-15 to address Southeast and Yakutat fish and shellfish issues. It’s back to Anchorage for a March 10 hatchery committee meeting. The Board will conclude with a March 11-16 meeting on Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Westward and Arctic Shellfish, and Prince William Sound shrimp. The March meeting locations have yet to be announced. The deadline to make agenda change requests to the Board of Fisheries is Aug. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Pinks peaking, but chum runs mostly dismal around state

Alaska’s salmon landings have passed the season’s midpoint and by Aug. 7 the statewide catch had topped 116 million fish. State managers are calling for a projected total 2021 harvest of 190 million salmon, a 61 percent increase versus 2020. Most of the salmon being caught now are pinks with Prince William Sound topping 35 million humpies, well better than the projection of 25 million. Pink salmon catches at Kodiak remained sluggish at just more than 3 million so far out of a forecast calling for more than 22 million. Southeast was seeing a slight uptick with pink catches nearing 14 million out of a projected 28 million. The pink salmon harvest usually peaks in mid-August and the statewide catch was more than 57 million out of a projected 124 million humpies for the season. For chum salmon the harvest remains bleak with Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula the only regions tracking well for catches. The statewide catch had barely topped 6 million out of a projected 15.3 million fish. The coho peak is typically in early September and harvests are climbing steadily, but at a pace less than half the five-year average. Just less than 700,000 cohos had crossed the Alaska docks, or about 14 percent of the projected catch of 3.8 million silver salmon. Alaska sockeye salmon catches of nearly 52 million so far have blown past the forecasted 46.6 million. More than 40 million are from Bristol Bay and more than 6 million from the Alaska Peninsula. The statewide chinook harvest had reached 173,000, or 64 percent of an expected 269,000 kings. Salmon slump No Alaska region has been hit harder by dismal salmon returns this summer than communities on the Yukon River, where the summer chum run of just 153,000 is the lowest on record. “This is really quite scary for everyone. These runs are low enough that no one on the river is subsistence fishing, and so it’s very dismal. Everybody in the communities on the full river drainage, are feeling the hardship,” Serena Fitka, director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, told KYUK in Bethel. Nearly 10,000 pounds of chum and king salmon have been donated by Bristol Bay fishermen and processors with logistical assists by SeaShare and Kwik’pak Fisheries in Emmonak to send salmon to 11 villages. Kwik’pak, typically a top employer each summer, has been able to put only a handful of people to work for a few days helping with the distribution said General Manager Jack Schultheis. Gov. Mike Dunleavy also directed an additional $75,000 to purchase more salmon from Alaska processors for donations. The Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Association of Village Council Presidents are helping with distribution. More fish action As always, lots of other fisheries are going on across Alaska besides salmon. At Southeast, about 160 crabbers will wrap up a two-month Dungeness crab fishery on Aug. 15. State managers expect the catch to top 2.25 million pounds with another opener set for Oct. 1. A sablefish fishery opens in Northern districts on Aug. 15 for 73 shareholders with a catch of 1.13 million pounds. The Panhandle’s spot shrimp fishery remains open in some regions through Aug. 30 with a 400,000-pound harvest limit. At Prince William Sound, a sablefish fishery is ongoing through Aug. 30 with a 208,000-pound catch limit. Likewise, a lingcod fishery continues through year’s end with a 32,600-pound harvest. It’s been slow going for Prince William Sound’s shrimp fishery that opened in April and has been extended to Sept. 15. That catch limit is 70,000 pounds. Pot hauls for Kodiak’s Dungeness crab fishery were nearing 962,000 pounds by a fleet of 19 boats. Crabbers are dropping pots for nearly 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutian Islands. Alaska’s halibut landings are slightly ahead of last year at this time with nearly 9.9 million pounds crossing the docks by Aug. 7. That’s 53 percent of the roughly 19 million-pound catch limit. Halibut prices usually tank during the summer but that’s not the case this year and fishermen are fetching near or more than $6 per pound at most ports. Payouts at Homer were $7.25, $7.65 and $7.85 depending on halibut size, with Seward buyers paying a nickel less. Sablefish catches had topped 19 million pounds, or 44 percent, of the 43.4 million-pound quota. Homer also was paying the most for black cod with prices ranging from $1.10 for under two pounders to $6.25 for 7-ups with Sitka not far behind, according to the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Fishing for scallops continued in regions from Yakutat to the Bering Sea where 345,000 pounds of shucked meats (the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed) could be harvested this season. Fishing continued for cod, flatfish, pollock and more in the Bering Sea. Pollock fishing will reopen for Gulf of Alaska trawlers on Sept. 1. Mariculture means money Ninety new founding members responded to the call to help shape the new Alaska Mariculture Alliance, a private non-profit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Walker. Their goal is to create a sustainable industry for growing shellfish and seaweeds to benefit Alaska’s economy and communities. The group represents a diverse range of experienced growers to newcomers, said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and is doing the same for the AMA. It also includes reps from Alaska Native corporations, salmon hatcheries, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the Aleutian Pribilofs Community Development Association. Along with boosting shellfish and seaweed farming, a priority will be getting the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill to allow for more large-scale shellfish enhancement that models the state’s successful salmon hatchery programs. “There’s been some efforts looking at restoring and enhancing king crab, geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and razor clams but they’re mostly at an experimental level. And they’re not allowed to do larger scale projects until a regulatory framework is put into place,” Decker explained. “We’re very close to getting the bill passed and we’re hoping that it will be one of the first bills taken back up and moved along over the finish line in the next session. Sen. (Gary) Stevens of Kodiak and Rep. (Dan) Ortiz of Ketchikan have been very helpful with that.” Policy makers are starting to talk more about the positive potential for Alaska mariculture, Decker said, and she believes “we have turned a corner” as proven by several new state and federal hires. NOAA Fisheries has hired Alicia Bishop as its first ever Aquaculture Coordinator for the Alaska Region along with Jordan Hollarsmith as research lead, both based in Juneau. And the University of Alaska/Fairbanks has hired seaweed research specialist Schery Amanzor as a professor at its College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to provide even more expertise. The state also has added two positions to the Department of Natural Resources to review new mariculture lease applications to reduce the backlog. “They have now gone from an average review process of 572 days down to 274 days,” Decker said. There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska, plus 35 pending new applications that add up to over 1631.32 underwater acres. Only 28 growers are making sales so far. The ultimate goal of the AMA is to facilitate a $100 million mariculture industry by 2038 and many believe that’s very conservative due to increasing demand, especially for seaweeds. The North American market for commercial seaweed will exceed $9.5 billion by 2026 due to rising commercial seaweed consumption and demands in the pharmaceutical industry, while global revenue is projected to top $85 billion, predicts Global Market Insights Inc. Check out the new Alaska Mariculture Map launched in partnership with the Alaska Ocean Observing System, Axiom Data Science, APICDA Corp., The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Alaska Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy/Alaska. Fish boosters The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is seeking members for its advisory committees to help develop global strategies for the Alaska seafood brand. Committees include Salmon, Halibut-Sablefish, Whitefish, and Shellfish, International Marketing, Domestic Marketing, Communications, Customer Advisory Panel and Seafood Technical. Deadline to apply is Sept. 24. Questions? Contact [email protected]/ Aug. 13 is the deadline to nominate small- and medium-sized seafood businesses to help shape a new National Seafood Council. Six to 8 seafood companies whose annual revenues are less than $20 million will be selected for cash scholarships based on their incomes. Apply at seafoodnutrition.org/ The call is still out for candidates for the state Board of Fisheries. The vacancy stems from the Alaska Legislature’s rejection on May 13 of Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Mine. According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days. Deputy Director of Communications Jeff Turner wrote in an email that, “The Governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection” and that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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