Laine Welch

August hearings could change face of salmon management

Two hearings this month could change the face of Alaska’s salmon fisheries forever. On Aug. 21, the Department of Natural Resources will hear both sides on competing claims to water rights for salmon streams at Upper Cook Inlet’s Chuitna River or to a proposed coal mine. If DNR opts for the mine, the decision would set a state precedent. “It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine completely through a salmon stream,” said Bob Shavelson, a director at Cook Inletkeeper. “And the sole purpose is to ship coal to China. It is really a very dangerous precedent, because if they can do it here in Cook Inlet they will be able to do it anywhere in the state.” Cook Inletkeeper, along with the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Alaska Center for the Environment, requested the hearing. They want to protect spawning tributaries of the salmon-rich Chuitna; PacRim Coal of Delaware and Texas wants to dewater the streams and dig Alaska’s largest coalmine. DNR Water Resources Chief Dave Schade agreed that the decision is precedent setting, and it comes down to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.” The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21 at the U.S. Federal Building Annex in Anchorage. Testimony is limited to participants in the case and no public comments are scheduled to be taken. A decision by DNR is expected on or before Oct 9. Following the water rights hearing will be oral arguments before the Alaska Supreme Court on Aug. 26 on the setnet ban proposed for Cook Inlet and five other “urban, non-subsistence” Alaska regions. At issue is whether removing setnetters is a resource allocation measure that is prohibited under the state constitution. The court decision will determine if the question can be put before Alaska voters in the primary election next August. The ban is being pushed and bankrolled by the Kenai-based sports fishing group Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance , or AFCA, which claims the issue is not allocative and targets a single gear group. AFCA insists salmon setnets indiscriminately kill other species that come in contact with the gear. “I believe now more than ever that Alaskans want to end the devastating and outdated mode of commercial fishing called setnetting,” AFCA president Joe Connors said at a June press conference. “It is time for setnets in urban Alaska to go away. It’s time for fish to come first.” The State of Alaska disagrees, and the data don’t back up AFCA’s claims that setnets destroy other species. “Looking over the last 10 years, the setnet harvest is comprised of 99.996% salmon. It’s a very, very low number of other species caught. It’s almost not measurable,” said Jeff Regnart, director of the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division. Regnart called bringing fish allocation issues to the ballot box “bad public policy.” There are more than 2,200 setnet operations in Alaska; 735 are located in Cook Inlet. Last week the state Division of Elections certified enough voter signatures collected via an AFCA petition to proceed with a ballot initiative. Pending the Court ruling, the setnet ban could be put before voters next August. Fish relief Companies getting clobbered by low cost imports can get some relief from federal trade adjustment assistance programs. “Basically, if it’s a product that competes with imports and the domestic firm is losing ground and the imports are rising, the assistance can be available to a company,” said David Holbert, executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, or NWTAAC. The assistance is part of a nationwide program started more than 30 years ago by the U.S. Commerce Department, as a way to help U.S. manufacturers facing competitive disadvantages often caused by global trade deals. The TAAC programs now include small and medium sized businesses in other sectors, like agriculture and fishing. “These companies are going to have to do something different. They are not going to win by just trying harder; they need outside expertise. And that is the key as to why this program is so successful,” Holbert said. Eligible businesses need to show a drop in employment and in sales or production and other trade criteria. The program requires some matching costs; smaller companies with less than $1 million dollars in sales can receive up to 75 percent in matching funds for up to $30,000. “So a company would pay $7,500 for projects that would otherwise cost $30,000,” Holbert explained. The limit for larger companies is $150,000 for which the Center matches half. An eligible company works with the Center to create a strategic plan; then NWTAAC contracts with experts to put the plans into action. Holbert said creating marketing tools such as brochures and labels, brands and logos, and especially website development are top choices. “It’s all customized, they are not off the shelf programs,” Holbert said. “We talk to the company and see what their ideas are, what they need and want, and work with management to do the things that matter most.” Holbert believes many Alaska salmon businesses and organizations are likely good candidates for the funds. “One would expect with this extreme swing in prices this year, some fishermen would choose not to fish and that would bring down domestic production,” he said. “One also has to suspect that this is due to the availability of cheaper imports. Alaska’s salmon fishery is known as a sustainable fishery, and there are tremendous values other than the pure price that can be brought into play.” Holbert stressed that the trade assistance program is completely confidential. Fish feedback A portion of Alaska fishermen’s harvest is used to support the marketing operations of the state’s lone marketing arm: the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The fee is paid by the processors based on a half-percent of ex-vessel, or dockside, values. A new survey by the McDowell Group is asking for feedback from fishermen about how well ASMI is doing. “Your answers to the following questions are greatly appreciated, and will help ASMI meet its mission of increasing the economic value of Alaska seafood. Answers provided on this survey will be reported collectively and will not be attributed to you,” the survey announcement said. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Electric boat makes debut; Costco cuts Chilean salmon

The first seagoing electric powered passenger vessel in the U.S. is set to launch next summer in Juneau. The E/V Tongass Rain is a 50-foot, 47-passenger catamaran designed for eco-education and whale watching tours. Its primary fuel source will be rain, delivered to the boat via Juneau’s hydroelectric power grid and stored in a bank of lithium batteries. The more modern batteries are less than half the weight of a traditional lead acid battery, and they provide three times the power and charge three times as fast, said Bob Varness, president and manager of Tongass Rain Electric Cruise or TREC. The hull of the craft, designed by Jutson Marine in Vancouver, has been certified by the Coast Guard for 150 nautical miles “for safe harbor” in 6½-foot seas at 12 knots. Once the propulsion system gets the green light, Varness said, building will be underway. “No noise, no emissions … and the system only has one moving part, so you don’t have exhaust systems to deal with, turbo chargers or cooling systems, or injection pumps. Every 50,000 hours the battery manufacturer recommends pulling the motor out, putting new bearings and seals on either end and they send you the same one back,” he said. Varness, who also is an independent Torqeedo electric marine motor dealer, said some alternative powers are being used by U.S. mariners on a small scale, but not in commercial fishing. His small troller runs up to 130 miles on a single charge and recharges for $1.25, and he believes electro-power would also be a good fit for salmon drift and gillnetters, jig and pot gear and other fisheries. “If you know where you’re going every day and it’s pretty much a routine, and if it’s not high speed, this technology is something that people really need to look at. All the products are off the shelf and available for purchase today,” he said. The products might be at hand, but the expertise to do electro-power conversions for fishing boats is not. “It’s so new, no one is even sure how to do it,” Varness said. Marine designer Trevor O’Brien agreed putting the technology aboard fishing vessels today is tricky. O’Brien manages the production engineering team at Armstrong Marine in Port Angeles, Washington, where the E/V Tongass Rain will be built. “This first boat is a lot simpler; it’s a passenger boat and we know exactly how many miles they run out and back,” he said. “Figuring out how much electricity they need to make that run is a lot easier than a fishing boat that you don’t know where they’re going, or how long they’ll be running chillers or have their lights on.” O’Brien said chillers and compressors for the fish hold are a big power draw, and the lithium batteries do pose challenges. “The most complicated part is getting the batteries charged quickly, and some of the systems are liquid cooled and that can get complex. The charging circuits aren’t really user friendly, and you’ve got to be kind of an electrical expert to maintain and service the systems,” he explained. “For that reason, a lot of the battery manufacturers have required that they do installations and maintenance on the first boats being built. But I know they are working very hard to get the system to where people can maintain it on their own.” The biggest drawback now is battery price. The 50-foot Tongass Rain, for example, will use 10 five-kilowatt batteries at $5,000 each. As with any new technology, O’Brien said prices would drop fast as it gets more widely used. And O’Brien and Varness are confident that will happen. To make believers out of the fishing fleets, both agreed it would take what they called a “soft hand off.” “We need to build a vessel and learn from it and challenge it and fine tune it until it is right. And then do mass production or conversions of that type of systems,” said Varness. “That’s why I’m excited about this project,” O’Brien said. “No one has done this yet and we are willing to be the guinea pig and make it happen. We’re one of the frontrunners and we want to prove it works because we think it is the future.” Also on the electro-front: Kodiak Electric Vessels LLC received a $247,000 grant in 2013 from the state’s Emerging Energy Technology Fund. The small company has demonstrated two core technologies: a Power Dense Motor and Universal Modular Inverter Controller, for use in both stationary power generation and propulsion applications. The project team has filed for several patents and is in discussion with potential investors in anticipation of commercialization. Check those labels! More U.S. food retailers are getting the message that Americans want to know what they are eating. And it’s clear that consumers don’t want their foods tainted with hormones and antibiotics. That’s prompted Costco to turn away from farmed salmon from Chile — the world’s second largest producer — due to its record use of antibiotics to kill deadly bacteria in its net pens. According to Reuters, Chile used 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics last year on production of nearly 900,000 tons of salmon, a 25 percent increase from 2013. Costco — the No. 3 U.S. retailer — routinely bought 90 percent of the 600,000 pounds of salmon fillets it sells each week from Chile, accounting for nearly 9 percent of Chilean exports to the United States. Costco now will buy 60 percent of its farmed salmon from Norway, and 40 percent from Chile. Norway is the world’s largest farmed salmon producer and uses far less antibiotics. Latest figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization show Norway produced 1.3 million tons of salmon and used just over 2,000 pounds of antibiotics in 2013. Costco is following the lead of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which have phased out Chilean fish in favor of antibiotic-free fish that is caught in the wild. Target has gone further and eliminated farmed salmon from its shelves, and Walmart is pressing all protein suppliers to reduce their use of antibiotics. Luckily, American salmon lovers can know what they are buying. By law, all fresh or frozen salmon and other seafood on U.S. grocery shelves must be labeled according to the country of origin and whether it is farmed or wild. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.  

Sockeye price plunges; comments for Gulf catch shares

Shock and dismay were heard from Bristol Bay fishermen when they finally got word last week that major buyers would pay 50 cents a pound for their sockeye salmon. That’s a throwback to the dock prices paid from 2002 through 2004, and compares to $1.20 advanced last year, or $1.33 on average after price adjustments. A late surge of reds produced catches of nearly 13 million in its final week, bringing the total by July 23 to 34.5 million fish. The fish were still trickling in, and state managers, who called the season an “anomaly,” said the final tally will likely reach the projected harvest of 37.6 million sockeye salmon. Fishermen were prepared for lower prices this summer, due to a plugged global market, sockeye holdovers from last summer’s big run, the continuing Russian embargo against U.S. seafood, and a strong dollar that makes it more expensive for foreign customers to buy U.S. salmon. Typically, 60 percent to 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood sales are in exports. Going into the fishery, a disappointing base price of 65 cents was bandied about — coming in 15 cents below that was a demoralizing jolt. “Shame on you (processors) for crippling the harvester side of the industry. This place is a company town!” said a fisherman on KDLG’s Open Line program. “I’m paying my crew less than they would make in a week down south.” “Pay a guy what it’s worth,” said two others. “This is a grim reality for all of us. Such wonderful protein for so little. So many fishermen cuckolded by this,” emailed a longtime fisherman. “It’s not the processors’ fault. It’s the fault of the 2,500 permit holders for not getting together to set a price,” said another. “Don’t jump to conclusions,” cautioned Norm Van Vactor, president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. Before that, he worked for decades in the local seafood industry as a general manager at Leader Creek and Peter Pan Seafoods. “Lots needs to sort out,” Van Vactor said. “I can empathize with their frustration, but don’t give up the ship. They went into the season knowing there were challenges and things will get better sooner rather than later. Advances are just that, and the market is very confused. I’m not even aware of people making offers. The bottom line is no one has a good sense of what the salmon product forms are (canned, frozen, etc.), who’s got what, or what is going domestic or foreign.” In anticipation of a rocky red market, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute allocated an extra $1 million to push sockeye salmon, particularly frozen, leading into and throughout this harvest season. “The one bright spot is in the domestic market,” said Tyson Fick, ASMI Communications Director. “We saw really good success with demos in 5,000 stores across the country that resulted in sales lifts from 20 percent to over 230 percent in individual stores.” Sockeyes also will get a boost from the world’s largest seafood restaurant company. Red Lobster announced last week that it is partnering Alaska sockeye salmon with its popular Crabfest promotion in more than 700 restaurants in the U.S., Canada and other global sites. Salmon elsewhere Unhappy Southeast trollers wrapped up their summer chinook fishery in just eight days and won’t get another shot due to controversies over West Coast and Canadian treaty kings. It’s just the third time in 15 years there won’t be an August chinook fishery for the Panhandle’s largest fishing fleet. Pink salmon are taking their time showing up in big numbers in Southeast waters, where a 58 million humpy harvest is projected. Only 3.5 million were taken through July 24. Seiners at Prince William Sound are still slamming the pinks with a catch approaching 33 million. Processing capacity was tapped out and fish were being hauled to Southeast and Kodiak, which is also seeing some record pink salmon catches so far. Salmon catches at Cook Inlet are above the five-year averages, for all but sockeyes. The Alaska Peninsula was getting some good sockeye catches at 4 million so far with fishermen on limits in the Southern region. Farther west, the chum harvest in the Kuskokwim region was running well below average. The Yukon River chum catch was a respectable 366,000 fish. At Norton Sound, the chum take is on track to be the best since 1986 when 150,000 were caught. At Kotzebue, which last year saw one of the best chum runs ever, chum fishing opened last week but was then canceled due to a lack of salmon buyers. The fish are flown elsewhere for processing but the one buyer was backed up with fish from Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound. Comment on changes coming for GOA groundfish Crafting a program to reduce trawl bycatch in Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries has been underway for three years. In October, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will begin putting the pieces together and they want the public to weigh in on the process. Groundfish fisheries in the Gulf, in providing incentives to reduce bycatch, to better utilize groundfish species and to improve operational efficiencies,” said Rachel Baker, a fisheries management specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Fisheries in Juneau. The new program will include some form of catch shares allocated among user groups and possibly communities. NOAA and the council are now preparing an environmental impact statement, or EIS, to analyze potential impacts — not to marine mammals or birds or fish stocks, but to the “human environment.” First and foremost, that includes impacts on fishing operations. “Whatever the program ends up being, how it might change the management of fisheries we currently have,” Baker explained. “The economic impacts are always a big one to try and analyze — if you change the timing of fisheries and delivery to processors, all those things that flow through and are affected by that. Those are the main things we’re looking at. And, of course, the social impacts on the communities directly involved in the Gulf groundfish fisheries. That is of critical importance and was clearly identified by the council as an important consideration as it develops this program.” The massive new program could include up to 25 species in the Western, Central and West Yakutat regions of the Gulf. But even that has yet to be defined. The public can weigh in now on fish species and all other options being considered because at this point, nothing is cast in stone. “If people have very different ideas about alternatives for bycatch management, or things they definitely don’t want to see, we would really appreciate those comments and the more specific the better,” Baker said. “If a member of the public is worried about bycatch management but they don’t think catch shares are a viable alternative, we’d really appreciate hearing other ideas.” Baker stressed that public input plays a big role in shaping fishery policies, adding: “I have been working in this process for 12 years and I am amazed at the power of public comments in influencing the outcomes of the fishery management programs we develop.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Bristol Bay's comeback, SE pinks, Murkowski vs. Frankenfish

The world’s biggest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay went from “bust” to “unbelievable” in one week. Landings last week broke records every day for five days for that time frame, bringing the total sockeye catch to nearly 28 million fish on an unusually long-tailed run — and the reds were still coming on strong. That had overloaded processors scurrying to replace workers they’d sent home the previous week when the big forecasted run was deemed a no show. The late surge of sockeyes also left many fishermen frustrated with limits to their catches, while tenders were trekking the abundance of reds to other regions for processing. It remains to be seen how long the run will last, and if it will produce the 38 million projected catch. Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch can add up to nearly two-thirds of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value. Going into the season, buyers were bracing for another huge sockeye haul amid freezers and shelves still full of fish from last year’s big haul. Now, the uncertainty has put any updated price indications on hold until buyers see how the Bay run plays out. Market reports from the U.S., Japan and Europe say most buyers are waiting for the majors, such as Trident and Ocean Beauty, to make large volume sockeye purchases before sales prices will start to surface and settle out. For more than a month, unconfirmed reports have put the grounds price for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon at 65 cents per pound, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish. That compares to a Bay base price average of $1.20 per pound last year. The Kodiak sockeye base price to fishermen was reported at 80 cents and 95 cents at Southeast Alaska. Both regions paid in the $1.75 per pound range last year. The statewide average sockeye price to Alaska fishermen in 2014 was $1.37 per pound. From reds to pinks Meanwhile, pink production is coming on line in major regions. Prince William Sound seiners were catching 2 million pinks per day, and nearing 20 million fish by July 17. Much of the overload was being sent out to Kodiak and Southeast for processing. Pinks also were showing up slowly at Southeast Alaska where a whopping 58 million catch is expected this summer. Most pink salmon prices are reportedly starting in the 20-25 cent range, down about a dime from the statewide average last year Fish faves The whole point of catching fish is to have it end up on dinner plates. Most Americans eat their seafood at restaurants and the highest-ranking fish dish at the Top 500 fast-casual restaurants is salmon, although cod is quickly becoming a big menu favorite. Crab dishes also have ticked up by nearly 2 percent on U.S. restaurant menus. That’s according to Chicago-based Technomic, which for 45 years has tracked and analyzed the U.S. food industry. A new report says that only 6 percent of seafood entrees occur on menus at fast-casual eateries, and 54 percent of diners said they would like to see more seafood varieties. Shrimp still ranks as America’s top seafood choice, but fast becoming a favorite is sushi. Sushi appetizers in their various varieties soared over 43 percent on menus so far this year compared to last, Technomic said, and many Americans are eating sushi on a regular basis — especially Millennials, people born between 1980 and the mid-2000s. Fish grades at grocers Switching from restaurants to supermarkets — 82 percent of the nation’s top 25 grocery chains got passing grades this week from Greenpeace for their eco-friendly seafood practices and protection of workers’ rights. In its 9th annual Carting Away the Oceans Report, Whole Foods topped the scorecard for the third year running, followed by Wegman’s, Hy-Vee, Safeway and Target. Failing grades went to Publix, Southeastern Grocers, Roundy’s, A&P and Save Mart. The mixed kudos, unfortunately, are backhanded compliments as Greenpeace concludes its report by advising consumers to “eat less fish.” “Today’s demand for seafood far outstrips what can be delivered from sustainable sources. Reducing seafood consumption now can help lessen the pressure on our oceans, ensuring fish for the future,” Greenpeace wrote. That advice drew searing criticism from the National Fisheries Institute which stated in a long rebuttal: “No longer content to hide its dangerous ulterior agenda behind a thin veneer of inference and insinuation, Greenpeace is now openly calling for Americans to ‘eat less seafood.’ This not only destroys whatever shreds of credibility Greenpeace had left, but puts its fringe activists at odds with just about every medical and nutritional expert in the world including the (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration.” Labels for Frankenfish Consumers will know if the salmon they are eating are “real” fish and not “manmade” if a measure by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, gets the nod by the full Senate. Murkowski last week added language to the FY16 Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, spending bill that will require labeling for any genetically engineered, or GE, salmon sold in the U.S. A GE-tweaked Atlantic salmon, engineered to grow twice as fast as a normal fish, is being produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, which has been awaiting FDA approval for nearly two decades. Murkowski is among the staunchest critics due to concerns about interbreeding with wild stocks and the general uncertainty about the science behind GE products. “If the FDA moves forward, as it currently is, there would not be a requirement to ensure that people know what it is that they are eating,” Murkowski said. “People need to know whether they are eating a genetically-engineered fish or they are eating a wild Alaskan salmon that we promote so strongly in our state.” The House Committee on Agriculture also passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act last week, earning accolades from the grocery industry. The bi-partisan bill aims to establish a uniform labeling standard for foods made with genetically modified organisms, GMOs, and also for GMO-free foods. The committee hopes to have the bill pass the full House before the August recess. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Kodiak debris sweep; new Coast Guard regs for old vessels

Kodiak volunteers were scrambling with front end loaders and dump trucks to ready 200,000 pounds of super sacks for the first pick up of a massive marine debris removal project that begins in Alaska this week. The month-long cleanup, which is backed by a who’s who of state and federal agencies, non-profits and private businesses, will deploy a 300-foot barge and helicopters to remove thousands of tons of marine debris from some of the world’s harshest and most remote coastlines. “This is a really big deal for Alaska. We have one of the world’s newest and largest barges and an airlift operation that will fly over 2,000 helicopter trips from barge to shore. It is an unprecedented effort,” said Candice Bressler, public information officer for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, lead agency for the project. Most of the debris stems from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which sent an estimated 1.5 million tons of flotsam and jetsam afloat in the North Pacific. Japan has donated $5 million to the coast-wide cleanup up effort. The barge Dioskouroi, the world’s fifth-largest barge, that is leased by Waste Management Inc., will load up in Kodiak on July 15 and be towed out the next day by the M/V Billie H. The big tug will traverse the Gulf of Alaska and proceed along the Southeast coast to British Columbia, picking up debris sacks that were cached and bundled on remote beaches over past field seasons. “We’ve found building fragments, derelict vessels, lots of Styrofoam, aquaculture and fishing buoys from all over, fuel tanks and tons of lines and nets,” Bressler said. DEC began flying Alaska’s coastline in 2012 to map the debris by its density and movement, and captured more than 15,000 geo-references to help pinpoint where to focus cleanup efforts. “Definitely our biggest players in this were Gulf of Alaska Keeper (which is coordinating the airlift project) and Island Trails Network of Kodiak. They were instrumental in caching all this debris throughout the Gulf of Alaska,” Bressler said. The final destination is Seattle, where the goods will be sent for sorting and recycling, with remaining debris sent by train to a final disposal site in Oregon. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the unprecedented generosity from the government of Japan. They have been so generous and so open to helping out with this issue, and we are so incredibly thankful for their help,” Bressler said. A Kodiak kickoff event is set for July 16 with DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig. Nets to nouveau fashion? Some of the tons of lines and nets from the marine debris airlift could be turned into high end shoes and clothing. The international group Parley for the Oceans is coordinating the marine debris recycling effort in Seattle, and reportedly is planning on using the plastic materials in jeans. Parley made headlines last week when it launched a line of shoes in partnership with Adidas that are made from recycled gillnets taken from pirate fishing vessels. “Our objective is to boost public awareness and to inspire new collaborations that can contribute to protect and preserve the oceans,” said Parley founder Cyrill Gutsh in a press release. “We are extremely proud that Adidas is joining us in this mission and is putting its creative force behind this partnership to show that it is possible to turn ocean plastic into something cool.” Aging of the fleet applies to boats, too Alaska has a lot of old boats, and upcoming safety rules are aimed directly at those older vessels. Others are coming up fast that affect fishing boats of all ages. According to a state Department of Commerce report, roughly 9,400 boats longer than 28 feet make up Alaska’s maritime fleet. Of those, 69 percent are in the fishing and processing sector, 15 percent are recreational boats. Freight carriers, sightseeing, and oil and gas vessels make up the rest. More than 90 percent of the Alaska fleet is less than 100 feet long, and 74 percent are less than 50 feet. By far most of the boats were built between 1970 and 1989; nearly 1,000 are more than 50 years old. “What’s called an Alternate Safety Compliance Program is aimed at vessels that are 25 years old by 2020, greater than 50 feet in length, and operating beyond three nautical miles. So this is a new program,” said Troy Rentz, program compliance coordinator for the U.S. Coast Guard 13th District. The new requirements are part of the 2010 US Coast Guard Authorization Act, and won’t become mandatory until Jan. 1, 2020, for most vessels. “However the Coast Guard needs to proscribe the program by Jan. 1 of 2017,” Rentz emphasized. Coming up faster: Fishing vessel dock side exams become mandatory on Oct. 15 of this year for boats fishing outside three miles. “If you have an exam decal it is still valid. If you don’t, make an appointment with the Coast Guard now and avoid the rush,” Rentz said. By Feb. 16, 2016, vessel survival craft must keep all parts of the body out of the water, meaning floats and other buoyant apparatus will no longer be legal. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon leather upstarts and GOA juvenile halibut tagging

“Upcycling” seafood byproducts is the business model for Tidal Vision, a Juneau-based company of five entrepreneurs who are making waves with their line of aquatic leather and performance textiles. The start-up is making wallets, belts and other products from sheets of salmon skins using an all natural, proprietary tanning formula from vegetable oils and other eco-friendly ingredients. “We can produce the same quality and durability products with no formaldehyde, no chrome based tanning chemicals or EPA regulated chemicals to dispose of. And we can do bigger batches with less labor per skins,” said Craig Kasberg, company CEO – that’s Captain Executive Officer. “We’ve come up with a way to remove and dry the skins without any manual labor, and we have a pneumatic heat press that presses the resin into the salmon skins and gives them a consistent durability and glossy finish,” he added. Tidal Vision launched its aquatic leather line on Kickstarter, a web-based crowd funding community that has helped bring nearly 90,000 creative ideas to life since 2009. The company reached its $17,500 funding goal in less than 24 hours and now has 764 backers who have pledged $55,664 to the project (only 14 percent of the business hopefuls raise $20,000 or more through their whole campaign, according to Kickstarter’s website). Now Tidal Vision aims to attract business partners to grow the small company. “We want to grow the business through joint ventures with businesses that want to use our leather,” Kasberg said. “It’s ideal for the upholstery industry, foot wear; we’ve even been approached by a gentleman who owns a guitar company and wants to make guitar cases out of our salmon leather. There are a lot of different applications that we are excited to explore.” Coming this fall is a line of clothing and textiles made from a polymer in crab and shrimp shells called chitin, whose applications range from commercial water filtration to textile and pharmaceutical uses, such as dissolvable sutures. Chitin has not been able to be produced in the U.S. because of the harsh chemicals used. For about 40 years it has been made in China and India because those countries have less stringent regulations on disposal. “Our chemist, who has a Ph.D. in ‘chitonous biomass’ from the University of Alabama has derived a much simpler solution that has turned chitin production on its head,” Kasberg said. “We use one mixture that contains no hydrochloric acid or sodium hydroxide. It’s an ionic solution extraction that dislodges the chitin from everything else in the shells and disperses itself into a fluid. From there it goes through a series of pumps and filters in a closed loop system so all of the fluid is recycled and can be used repeatedly.” Another plus: the system is being designed for use in mobile shipping containers, so the units can be sent to remote locations and the valuable products returned for production elsewhere. In fabrics, chitin acts as a natural antibacterial, antimicrobial polymer that kills odors from sweat. Other textile and apparel companies use chitin as a coating that tends to wash out and wear off over time. The proprietary Tidal Vision process extrudes the chitin molecules into a fiber, which is then spun into yarn or blended, and used to knit the textiles into apparel products. “The process of spinning the fibers into the yarn makes chitin a structural component of the fabrics so the odor fighting properties last longer,” Kasberg said. “There is actually more value than just the chitin. For mine waste filtering, you actually need the phosphate lipids as well. And since we are not using acids that break everything down, our system also allows for co-product isolation and opens up those doors as well.” Yet another plus: crab from Alaska contain a higher percentage of chitin than species found elsewhere. “We’ve tested brown king crab from Southeast Alaska, tanners, Dungeness and blue crab and shrimp from all over the country. The Alaska crabs can yield up to two times as much chitin from their shells,” Kasberg said. Tidal Vision will launch its line of Chitoskin aqua-fabrics this fall. Toddler tags Tracking the movement and growth of young halibut is the focus of a new project underway since May in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. “Although we have done a lot of tagging over the years we haven’t done much with the smallest category of juveniles that we encounter,” said Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC. “And by the smallest I mean the 15 to 45 centimeter range (about four pounds), which is what a lot of the juveniles in the Eastern Bering Sea are.” Part of understanding and solving the bycatch issue is knowing much more about what the distribution and movement rates of the juveniles are, Leaman explained. “We know a fair amount about the fact that juveniles do migrate out of the Bering Sea, but we don’t know very much about the rates,” he added. “Studies of young halibut were done throughout the 1970s to early 1990s, but that research was more localized. Now we are casting a much bigger net.” The tagging is being done during the annual summer trawl surveys used for overall halibut stock assessments. IPHC researchers have a standard set of survey “stations” that are widely spaced so fish will be able to be tagged in many different locations. About 1,000 toddler halibut have been tagged in the Gulf, and 800 in the Bering Sea. Researchers hope to tag 2,000 fish by August. “We are trying to figure out if we can tag these things with any kind of facility, what kind of condition they are in, and whether or not it’s worthwhile for us to try and think about doing this on a much bigger scale,” Leaman said. Fishermen catching a tagged halibut should notify the IPHC in Seattle and report the information on the tag. Better yet, bring the tagged fish to IPHC port samplers stationed from Dutch Harbor to Petersburg so they can sample it Fish watch Icicle Seafoods has been sold to Convergence Holdings, Inc. and Dominion Catchers LLC of Indonesia. Paine & Partners, a global private equity agribusiness firm announced the sale in late June and hopes to have the deal completed in August. Along with a fleet of 11 vessels, Icicle owns shore plants in Petersburg, Seward, and Egegik at Bristol Bay, Larsen Bay at Kodiak, and near Dillingham. Terms of the sale were not disclosed. North Pacific Seafoods has reached an agreement with Inlet Fish Producers, Inc. to buy their Kenai and Kasilof processing facilities. North Pacific is owned by Marubeni, one of Japan’s largest seafood trading houses, which paid an estimated $8 million for the company. North Pacific’s John Garner said that no personnel changes are expected as a result of the purchase. With the Inlet acquisition, North Pacific expands its processing presence in Alaska to seven facilities: three in Bristol Bay, one each in Kodiak and Sitka, and two on the Kenai Peninsula. Russia has extended its ban on food imports from the U.S., the European Union, Canada, Australia and Norway for another year. For Alaska, that adds up to a loss of $60 million and 20 million pounds of seafood sales, mostly pink salmon roe and pollock surimi. The food ban resulted from trade sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and several other nations due to its aggressive actions in the Ukraine. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Silver linings for sockeyes as domestic market widens

As Alaska’s salmon season heads into high gear, a few bright spots are surfacing in an otherwise bleak global sales market. Sales and prices for all salmon (especially sockeye) have been in a slump all year. And amidst an overall glut of wild and farmed fish, Alaska is poised for another huge salmon haul, with the largest run of sockeye salmon in 20 years predicted along with a mega-pack of pinks. Meanwhile, the single toughest thing stacked against Alaska’s sales to traditional overseas customers is the strong U.S. dollar. “Overall, the dollar is up anywhere from 11 percent to 45 percent or more in some cases, versus the currencies of our buyers,” said Andy Wink, a seafood economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group. “That makes it really difficult to maintain pricing, because those buyers have to pay more and usually it adjusts somewhere in the middle.” Exports typically account for 60 percent to 70 percent of Alaska’s wholesale seafood sales each year. However, the strong dollar will force more sellers and buyers to turn towards U.S. retail outlets, Wink said, and that could be a good thing. “The expectation is this will entice retailers because anytime you’re able to buy at lower wholesale prices, typically you’re able to turn better margins,” Wink said. “Hopefully, it will get them to do more promotions and spur more sales because we certainly need it. After last year’s big run of sockeye, the 2013 record pink run, and heading into this year, we’ve got a lot of product out there. But that is great for the long term, because building that consumption is going to build demand.” That is exactly what has happened over the past year, said Larry Andrews, Retail Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, the state’s lone marketing arm. To shrink the amount of carryover heading into another bounteous salmon season, ASMI has hosted over 5,000 frozen sockeye demos at 10 retail chains, representing 4,530 stores in the Pacific Northwest, California, the Rockies, Texas, the Midwest, South and Southeast. “To date, chains have reported sales thus far ranging from 26 percent to 243 percent increases over the same period last year!” Andrews said. Sockeye promotions are up 26 percent across all U.S. retail outlets over the past 52 weeks, he added, and the number of stores promoting sockeye at prices below $9 per pound is up 146 percent. The lower seafood prices also are playing well against other “what’s for dinner” items, such as poultry, pork, and beef, which is at an all-time high. “For the time being, Alaska seafood products are at a better value than they’ve been in a long time relative to other proteins,” Wink added. Other bright spots for Alaska: sales of competing farmed salmon also are in a slump, and unlike last summer, fewer wild sockeyes are expected at the Fraser River in British Columbia. “The Fraser River typically only pops every four years so that should be less supply,” Wink explained. “On the farmed salmon side, the expectation is that production will be pretty flat. So that’s really nice. Anytime you see flat farmed production, it feels like supply is being taken off the table because the fish is grown so steadily and it is always so available over time.” McDowell Group produced a complete analysis of 2015 sockeye salmon markets for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association site. Fish watch More salmon fisheries are opening up all across Alaska and the catch so far of primarily sockeyes has topped two million fish. Most of the catch has come from the Copper River, although more reds are starting to come in along the Alaska Peninsula and disappointing takes are reported at Kodiak so far. Trollers are seeing good chinook salmon catches at Southeast, and a first seine opener for pinks is set for June 21. A humpie harvest of 58 million is expected at the Panhandle this summer. The Dungeness crab fishery got underway June 15 at Southeast Alaska where the catch should top a couple million pounds; a small Dungeness fishery also takes place around Kodiak. A small boat red king crab fishery at Norton Sound gets underway any day with a 394,000-pound harvest. Two of Alaska’s largest fisheries — trawl caught pollock and cod in the Bering Sea — were back out on the water for the summer season starting June10. Pollock will reopen in the Gulf of Alaska on August 25. In other fish news: Sitting commissioners Don Lane of Homer and Bob Alverson of Seattle were the only names submitted for two vacancies on the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC. Both are likely to be reappointed by the Secretary of Commerce. The IPHC also is seeking a new executive director to replace Bruce Leaman. Applications must be submitted by July 1. Finally, electronic monitoring systems will be advanced by a $492,553 federal grant given to the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, or ALFA, in Sitka. ALFA, one of only five recipients nationwide, plans to integrate the monitoring on up to 120 small fishing vessels to help relieve the burden of onboard observers. ALFA’s work will obtain reliable data and advance the use of EMS for other local boats. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Examining anti-setnet group's claims about 'bycatch'

A one-handed clap best describes the reaction to the 43,000-signature drop off by anti-salmon setnet advocates at the Division of Elections last week. It means enough signatures were gathered to include the question on the 2016 primary election ballot, and let Alaska voters decide whether to ban setnets at Cook Inlet, Mat-Su, Anchorage, Juneau, Valdez, Ketchikan, and any communities designated as “urban” and “non-subsistence” in the future. The ban is being pushed one-handed by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, or AFCA, whose board of directors delivered stacks of signature booklets, followed by a press conference rife with talking points, table pounding, bravado and buzzwords. “I believe now more than ever that Alaskans want to end the devastating and outdated mode of commercial fishing called setnetting,” exhorted Joe Connors, AFCA president, and a Kenai lodge owner and sportfishing guide. “I spent six years as a setnetter in Upper Cook Inlet and during that time I caught a lot of red salmon. However, my nets also caught sharks, birds, ducks, flounders, Dolly Vardens and a lot of king salmon. Setnets are decimating other species in Alaska.” “Urban, commercial setnet fisheries are unhealthy and unmanageable,” echoed AFCA member Derek Leichliter. “Setnets are a predatory means of fishing that kill or maim most anything that gets in their path. It’s time to put the fish first and end this setnet bycatch,” said AFCA founder Bob Penney, to the sound of loud duck quacking from an errant cell phone in the background. “We strongly support commercial fishing; it’s just this one gear type that we oppose.” If salmon setnets are such indiscriminate killers, why aren’t they banned statewide? “That’s what we’re trying to do,” the AFCA group retorted with hearty chuckles. Better hold that laughter. Over the last 10 years the harvest by Alaska’s 2,200 setnetters was 99.996 percent salmon, according to data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “So .004 percent would be species other than salmon, what some might consider bycatch. It’s almost not measurable,” said Jeff Regnart, Director of the Commercial Fisheries Division. The breakdown of 2014 setnet participation in the regions where it would be outlawed includes: Valdez/Cordova-29 permits; Ketchikan-0; Juneau-12; and Upper and Lower Cook Inlet-735, which includes Anchorage and the Mat-Su. Of those regions, 84 percent were Alaska residents. In total, the setnetters topped $47 million in gross earnings, according to data compiled by United Fishermen of Alaska. Support for the setnet ban has yet to extend beyond Cook Inlet. Of AFCA’s $116,000 in campaign contributions, $97,000 was donated by Bob Penney, the rest came from Southcentral donors, plus $200 from Oregon. AFCA also bankrolled the signature booklets by paying $87,000 to the Alaska Libertarian Party to gather the names of voters, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission. “The start of this has to start someplace. We haven’t reached out for any further contributions anyplace until we pass the Supreme Court,” Penney said, referring to the final hearing on the measure’s legitimacy scheduled for late August. “Once that takes place, we’ll be in a position to say ‘this is going to be on the ballot’ and that’s what we are waiting for.” The State of Alaska is appealing a lower court ruling that determined the ballot initiative is not allocative in nature, which allowed AFCA to begin collecting signatures. Most Alaskans believe that setting fish allocations at the ballot box is bad public policy. But Matt Singer, AFCA legal counsel, said Alaska has a long history of voting on resource management issues. “With regard to methods and means of take, which is what we are dealing with here,” Singer said, “Alaskans have exercised the right to have a say in how people catch fish and wildlife since statehood, not just with fish traps, but with a vote on wire snares, two votes on aerial wolf hunting and a vote on bear baiting because it was not in line with Alaska’s values.” The State disagrees. “We don’t think this is the best way to address this issue,” said Regnart, adding that since voting against fish traps at statehood, no fish allocations have been put before Alaska voters. “Setnetting in Alaska is very important to these local coastal economies. They are long time, family based operations and very important for our ability to manage these sockeye and other salmon populations in these different fisheries.” AFCA insists that the state Board of Fisheries would decide how to allocate the fish taken from the setnets, and what gears might take their place, such as beach seines, purse seines, dip nets, fish wheels or other options. “Those would stop the devastating setnet bycatch occurring today,” Penney said. But they “don’t fit with the terrain,” Regnart rebutted. “This issue is about Upper Cook Inlet and it would change the allocation of who catches what. The setnetters there catch about half of the sockeyes, and if they were not around, the fishery would look very different. In many years it would be very difficult for us to be able to exert enough exploitation to keep the escapements within the necessary balance,” he explained. “Setnetters in Cook Inlet are an integral part of us being successful in any given year to control that sockeye run. And if they weren’t there, it’s hard for me to imagine what we might do.” Should the Alaska Supreme Court rule in favor of the ACFA challenge, the setnet ban must be finally approved by the state legislature. A mighty wind Chinook salmon are returning to the Yukon River delta, and while low numbers mean no commercial fishery again this year, the counts are becoming more encouraging. Even with 55 years of Yukon data, it’s a tough run to track because the timing is so unpredictable, said Phil Mundy, Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Mundy has been studying Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but said it was Yukon elders who taught him how to fine-tune the run timing. “They told me ‘the wind blows the fish in the river — everyone knows that, young man.’ And I wondered how that works,” he said, adding that Cook Inlet fishermen told him he same thing about sockeye salmon. “They said, ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone know that.’ But we couldn’t figure out exactly how the wind was doing what it did. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something because they seemed to be right,” Mundy mused. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen this at Cook Inlet and at Bristol Bay where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume. Then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge of the front between the fresh water and the salt water. And I never knew why they were doing that. They will pile up if there is no wind to mix that fresh and salt water to make it brackish. If there is no wind to blow, they will pile up on that front until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” In 2006 Mundy saw a scientific article that focused on how salmon make the change from fresh to salt water and vice versa. “There’s this thing called a calcium ion switch, and it is triggered by alternating exposure to different salinities,” he explained. “Young salmon can’t swim straight into salt water because it will kill them, and it’s the same for adults in the ocean returning to their home streams. They have to have alternating exposure to different salinities.” At the Yukon, Mundy said the wind mixing the water even trumps early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. Today satellite observation from the Alaska Ocean Observing System makes predictions easier and more reliable. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon, other big summer fisheries getting underway

Salmon fisheries are opening up this month from one end of Alaska to the other. Total catches so far of mostly sockeye, were under one million fish, but will add up fast from here on. A total haul for all Alaska salmon this season is pegged at 221 million fish. A highlight so far is a 40 percent increase in troll action at Southeast regions, where nearly 300 fishermen are targeting king salmon. That’s likely due to a boosted price averaging $7.54 per pound, up $1.88 from last year. Speaking of high prices — Alaska halibut fishermen are fetching well over $6 per pound for their catches at major ports. The longline fleet is nearing the halfway mark, with 10 million pounds left remaining in this year’s 17.4-million pound catch limit. Kodiak is in the lead for halibut landings, followed closely by Seward and Homer, which has yet to top the 1-million pound mark. Likewise, sablefish, or black cod, is nearing the halfway point of that fishery’ 23.5-million pound quota. Fishermen are getting more than $7 a pound for larger sizes (over seven pounds) and over $6 for medium weights. Southeast’s summer Dungeness crab fishery opens on June 15 at 8 a.m., a new starting time. Crabbers are hoping the price will match last year’s $2.95 per pound for the two pound dungies, bringing the dockside value to $15 million for 192 fishermen. Just 16 vessels showed up for Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak, taking an estimated 20,374 tons by June 2. At $50 per ton, the fishery will be valued at over $1 million to the region. Herring fishing is still going on around Kodiak and the runs will continue all the way up the coast to Port Clarence. Nearly 27,000 tons or roe herring can be taken in fisheries in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, with half of that coming from Norton Sound. Fishing continues for cod, flounders and other groundfish in the Gulf and Bering Sea, where the pollock fishery will reopen in late August. Bering Sea crabbers wrapped up their 61-million pound snow crab fishery, and are still tapping away at the 15-million pound Tanner crab quota with one million pounds left to go. A red king crab fishery will open at Norton Sound on June 15 with a catch of 394,000 pounds. Shutdown impacts It’s going on seven weeks since Alaska legislators walked off the job leaving the state budget behind. Layoff notices went out last week to thousands of state employees who could be off the job at the start of the July 1 fiscal year. Here’s an overview of potential fishery related impacts from various divisions: Hit hardest of all is the Commercial Fisheries Division, which receives nearly all of its management money from the state general fund. A core staff will remain to manage salmon fisheries, but field staff at remote weirs and other counting projects would be laid off in a phased approach during July and August. The division’s five research vessels will be tied up and office staff, labs, data support, subsistence surveys and other services will be cut back or halted. ComFish Division Director Jeff Regnart said other fisheries besides salmon are likely to be put on hold. “I think there will be an impact across the board,” Regnart said. “Other fisheries that aren’t salmon that could be put off if it’s possible from a biological perspective and may be taken at another time; we’ll look at that.” Also significantly curtailed or halted effective July 2 would be Title 16 permits issued by the Division of Habitat, subsistence harvest surveys done by the Division of Subsistence, and support to the Board of Fisheries and Board of Game as well as advisory committees. Functions of the Division of Sport Fish, the Division of Wildlife Conservation, and the Commercial Fisheries Limited Entry Commission will remain operational without the use of general funds: The budget impasse would delay or prevent fish shipments from getting to customers. The Dept. of Transportation will tie up all 11 state ferries meaning no passenger service, and no fish transports to awaiting mainland customers. Likewise, many state airports will operate with reduced hours. Public Facilities would provide emergency monitoring and response only, and Transportation staff would be reduced to paying bills and doing payroll. Core services by the Department of Environmental Conservation will be suspended. That includes shellfish PSP testing, air and water monitoring and permitting and inspections. The Department of Administration will delay or cancel vendor purchases and payment on supplies statewide, meaning a loss of nearly $2 million in state contracts paid out each day to Alaska small businesses. Finally, the Department of Natural resources will delay issuance of various permits and authorizations. Find a list of all threatened services by state agencies and departments at More online features More options have been added to the popular on line store operated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where license sales are up more than 30 percent since a new “print and go” feature was launched in mid-March. Nearly every license and permit is included — for commercial fishing, sport fishing, bear viewing, hunting and more. “Fishermen, families, fishing and hunting lodges that purchase licenses for their customers, as well as commercial processors who purchase all the licenses for their crew members. They can get all those licenses and then print them in one fell swoop,” said Michelle Kaelke, the department’s Financing and Licensing Supervisor. A new option added this week is personal use licenses. And an E-vendor project also will be tested out this summer in Anchorage, Fairbanks in Juneau. “We’re going to prototype it there and work all the bugs out. Then when things slow down after the busy summer season, we will be working with our license vendors to see who wants to go to E-licenses,” Kaelke said, adding that there are 1,000 license vendors in the state. Customers will continue to go into stores to purchase their licenses and it will all be done electronically, but the vendors will not have to do paper accounting of the information. “All the reporting, all the calculations, will automatically be done for them, so it will be a really nice benefit,” she added. Seventy percent of the department’s licenses are paper, and data entry of the all the information can take months. “Now, it can be instant,” Kaelke said, adding that the state Troopers also will benefit from the speedy information. Also just added to the online store: permits to visit the Round Island walrus sanctuary. Coming soon: commercial crew buoy tags, shooting range permits and signups for hunting classes. Find the online store at the ADFG home page. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Government shutdown may wound Alaska salmon season

Alaska’s salmon industry is ready to get corked by the inability of state lawmakers to pass a budget. More than 20,000 state workers are bracing for 30-day layoff notices, meaning they’ll be off the job when the new fiscal year starts on July 1. The timing couldn’t be worse for Alaska’s salmon managers who are nearing the peak of a season that could set new records. “There is some budget, about 27 percent of our normal amount for us to work in the field, and do our management responsibilities. But how we proceed from July 1 is what we’re working on,” said Jeff Regnart, director of Commercial Fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG. “This year has some record forecasts and Alaska salmon is a multi-million dollar industry. That means we are going to be out there managing these fisheries,” Regnart said. “We might have to make some changes based on the fiscal climate, but we’re going to make sure that we do our very best to have the tools to maximize the opportunity in these fisheries. That, to me, is our main mission.” Alaska’s 2015 salmon catch is projected at 221 million fish, totaling one billion pounds. That’s a bulk weight that has been topped only once before in 2013, according to the Seafood Market Bulletin by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Regnart said the major management focus would be on the “significant” salmon fisheries, such as pink salmon in Southeast Alaska and sockeyes at Bristol Bay, where a 40-million fish harvest is expected, a 41 percent increase. Statewide, a sockeye salmon forecast of nearly 60 million is the largest since 1995. “The salmon fishery is short,” Regnart said. “In the next three months, it will all be over. It is compressed and we need to be able to respond to that. It might be different from past years, but we’ll do our darndest to make sure we can make the calls necessary to provide access to that resource.” Other salmon fishing regions could feel even more of a management pinch. “Kodiak, South and North Peninsula, Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, all those are significant fisheries and our plan is to put them in the water,” Regnart said. “We might have fewer enumeration programs, fewer aerial surveys, and fewer people at the front counters in some offices, all those are possibilities. But the essential function of allowing access to that resource in a sustainable way, we will try to preserve.” “I have no idea which department employees, if any, would be prioritized over others,” said James Jackson, a regional salmon manager at ADFG in Kodiak, where the fishery opens June 1. “Reliable, in-season salmon escapement and catch data is the hallmark of a well-managed fishery,” he added. “Without department employees counting fish and keeping track of catch, it is very difficult to manage a commercial salmon fishery, especially one as large as Kodiak’s.” Of course, lots of other fishing is going on besides salmon, such as cod, shrimp, rockfish and Dungeness crab. Those could simply be put on hold. “I think there will be an impact across the board,” Regnart said. “We’re just going to put our resources where they make the most sense. With salmon, if you miss it, you’re done until next summer. Other fisheries that could be taken at another time, if it’s possible from a biological perspective, we’ll look at that.” “The situation is changing every day,” Regnart added. “We’re going to do everything we can to make this work, and try and pull a rabbit out of the hat.” R2AK Kayaks, paddle boards, sail boats and other man powered water craft are geared up for the Race to Alaska, dubbed the Iditarod of the Sea. On June 4 more than 30 teams will leave Port Townsend, Wash., and head north 750 miles to Ketchikan. “It’s an adventure endurance race with very few rules,” said Joe Bersch, president of Premier Pacific Seafoods, a race entrant with partner Dalton Bergen on a 24-foot sailing outrigger called Pure & Wild. “Our team is centered on promoting pure and wild, sustainable Alaska seafood along the race route,” Bersch said. The race is expected to take seven to 10 days. If the Pure & Wild team crosses the finish line first, they will donate the $10,000 winnings to SeaShare, a nonprofit that has donated seafood to U.S. hunger relief since 1994. “The reach of this race is international, and it is a good opportunity to broaden awareness of SeaShare,” Bersch said. “We want people to see the benefits of sustainable fisheries management in Alaska; and that it isn’t just about harvesting resources, but to show that the industry gives back by providing seafood meals to hungry people across the nation.” Track the race at Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Chuitna water reservation decision delayed until this fall

Alaskans will have to wait until fall to learn if salmon habitat prevails over a coal mine proposed at Upper Cook Inlet. A decision due earlier this month by the state Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, has been delayed until after a public hearing later this summer, said Ed Fogels, DNR Deputy Commissioner. At issue are competing water rights claims filed in 2009 by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and PacRim Coal of Delaware and Texas. The coalition wants to protect spawning tributaries of the salmon-rich Chuitna River, dubbed the Kenai of the West Side; PacRim wants to dewater the streams and dig Alaska’s largest coal mine. DNR received over 7,500 public comments in favor of water rights for salmon by the May 9 deadline. It’s no surprise that the coal vs. fish face-off moves on to a hearing, as both sides want a final say. “This will be a public hearing with testimony to be provided by individuals or groups who filed objection(s) to the reservation of water applications, or to the information and analyses produced by water resources section staff,” Fogels said via email, adding that the hearing details are being worked out. Should DNR rule in favor of coal over salmon habitat, the decision will set an unsettling state precedent. “It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine completely through a salmon stream,” said Bob Shavelson, a director at Cook Inletkeeper. “And the sole purpose is to ship coal to China. It’s really a very dangerous precedent because if they can do it here in Cook Inlet, they will be able to do it anywhere in the state. It could soon be coming to a river near you.” Cook Inletkeeper, along with the Coalition and Alaska Center for the Environment, requested the hearing. They objected to aspects of DNR’s analyses, such as including only coho salmon and using only dock prices to quantify the value of the entire Chuitna watershed. PacRim spokesmen have argued for years that they can restore the salmon habitat after all the coal is extracted. PacRim data show that the first phase alone would remove and dewater 20 square miles of salmon habitat, dig down 300 feet and discharge seven million gallons of mine waste a day into the Chuitna River. The total project calls for extracting 12 million tons of low-grade coal per year for 25 years. Dave Schade, DNR’s Water Resources Section Chief, agreed that the water rights decision is precedent setting, and that it comes down to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.” The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21 at the U.S. Federal Building Annex in Anchorage. DNR’s Ed Fogels said a decision is expected on or before Oct. 9. Council conundrum Two Alaskans will not be able to vote on cutting halibut bycatch when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes the week of June 1 in Sitka. Council members Simon Kinneen of Nome and David Long of Wasilla are recused from voting due to financial conflicts of interest. Kinneen is vice president and quota and acquisitions manager for the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.; Long is a Captain and Fish Master for Glacier Fish Company. Both will be able to participate in deliberations as the 11-member council (seven from Alaska counting the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region representative) grapples with reducing the more than 6-million pound halibut bycatch allowance in Bering Sea groundfish fisheries by up to 50 percent. Fish futures North Pacific Processors is poised to put pen to paper and purchase Inlet Fish of Kenai and Kasilof. reports that John Garner, chief operating officer of North Pacific, confirmed last week that the company is “in advanced talks to purchase Inlet Fish.” Inlet buys and processes salmon from Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Rivers. The purchase would expand North Pacific’s processing plants to seven, including at Kodiak, Bristol Bay and Southeast Alaska. Garner said he is “optimistic about the future of Alaska salmon.” Likewise, Alaskan-owned Cannon Fish Company opens its doors last weekend in Kent, Wash. The company was purchased in 2013 by the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA, one of six western Alaska Community Development Quota, or CDQ, corporations. The CDQ program gives a percentage of all Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fishing quotas to regional communities to enhance economic opportunities. Cannon Fish is a high-end seafood processing and marketing company started in 1991 that caters to a nationwide network of retailers, restaurants, and specialty grocers. Most of the fish processed at Cannon is caught by fishing families from six Aleutian Island villages, said Larry Cotter, APICDA chief executive officer. “It ties directly to our Alaska processing plants, Atka Pride Seafoods in Atka and Bering Pacific Seafoods at False Pass,” he added. Off the radar The appointment of U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Mumford to the state Board of Fisheries came as a surprise to most Alaskans. Gov. Bill Walker announced the news on May 20, crediting Mumford’s “vast range of experience in multiple fields as a commercial pilot, hunting instructor and state trooper, which has taken him all over the state.” Mumford, who lives in Anchorage, is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife trooper, worked for 18 years on sport and commercial fishing enforcement and also has served on the state Board of Game. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut comments rolling in, salmon opener underway

Nowhere in the world do people have as much opportunity to speak their minds to fish policy makers as they do in Alaska. As decision day approaches, a groundswell of Alaska voices is demanding that fishery overseers say bye-bye to halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. They are speaking out against the more than 6 million pounds of halibut that are dumped overboard each year as bycatch in trawl fisheries that target flounders, rockfish, perch, mackerel and other groundfish (not pollock). The bycatch levels, which are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, have not been changed for 20 years for the so-called “Amendment 80” fleet of 28 Seattle-based trawlers. At the same time, the halibut catches for commercial, sport and subsistence users have been slashed every year for 14 years due to stock depletion and slow growing, small fish. The North Pacific council will decide on cutting the halibut bycatch level by up to 50 percent when it meets the week of June 1 in Sitka. Federal data show that the multi-billion pound trawl fisheries discarded seven times more halibut in 2014 than were landed by fishermen in the same Bering Sea region.  “Halibut bycatch comes off the top,” said Jeff Kauffman of St. Paul, one of nearly 2,000 Alaskans who holds fishing shares of the halibut stocks. Kauffman has seen his region’s share of the small boat halibut catch dwindle by 63 percent to less than 400,000 pounds.  “There has been a de facto reallocation from the directed fisheries to the bycatch fisheries,” he said. “Conservation of the stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen.” “Alaska is the model for fishery sustainability and we should not prioritize bycatch over all the other harvests. And this is what we are seeing out in the Bering Sea,” agreed Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, an outreach coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Just because the fish is far away, doesn’t mean it has no impact on all other fishing communities, she pointed out. “Tagging studies show clearly that a halibut born in the Bering Sea could end up virtually in any management area within a couple years of its life. It’s a bycatch issue that affects all user groups throughout the state,” Peterson said. Data also show the average size of the halibut caught as bycatch last year in the Bering Sea was 4.76 pounds, less than half the weight of a typical 26-inch halibut. Between 70 percent to 90 percent of those smaller fish are slated to migrate out of the region upon maturity. So far, 16 Alaska groups and communities have passed resolutions and/or written strongly worded letters to the North Pacific council pushing for a 50 percent bycatch cut. A dozen Alaska legislators also have written to urge the council to make the cut. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Bering Sea fleet said the current bycatch issue draws “reckless conclusions.” The fishermen have worked extremely hard to reduce bycatch by maximizing halibut avoidance, said Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum. “Suggesting that a 50 percent reduction in bycatch is a ‘fair share’ action is ridiculous. There is nothing fair, equitable or reasonable in using the blunt tool of a 50 percent reallocation that could cost hard working Alaskans and fishermen hundreds of jobs, and could remove well over $100 million dollars from the State of Alaska’s economy in a single year,” Woodley wrote in an open letter to the industry. “This iconic species to subsistence, commercial and sport users is too valuable to waste and we can do better,” Peterson rebutted. “It has been 20 years since that bycatch level has been addressed in a meaningful way. It is absolutely time to act.” Public comments will be accepted by the council through May 26. Email them at [email protected]/ Poke preventer Few fishermen go to sea without their Vicky – the small, sharp Victorinox Swiss Army knife used for everything that needs a quick cut. But traditional knife sheaths point downward, and Vickys can badly poke fishermen scrambling atop huge pots used for crab or cod. To prevent injuries, fishermen customarily duct tape the knives sideways to their belts. Anne Morris of Sand Point knew there had to be a better way. She designed and made a snazzy new Vicky sheath that lies horizontally on belts — pokey problem solved. The knife sheath topped 23 entries to win the $1,000 first place prize last month at the Aleutian Marketplace Business Idea Competition, hosted each year by the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association and the Aleut Corp. “A big safety issue in my presentation was it is quicker to get the knife out of the sheath with it lying horizontal,” Morris said. “A big reason they wear the Vicky, too, is because nobody wants to go over with a crab pot.” She credits her son, Justin Drew, a pot cod fishermen, for the winning idea and has dubbed it the JD Beltz. The Marketplace competition is two-tiered and Morris now moves to a business plan phase that begins in October. “My idea is to include the sheath, the belt and the knife as a package deal. It might change as I get further along,” she said, adding that she hopes to work with a manufacturer and have the Vicky sheaths available by next year. Salmon starts Alaska’s 2015 salmon season officially began on May 14 with the first runs of reds and kings to the Copper River near Cordova. In coming weeks salmon openers will kick off all over Alaska and regional catch forecasts are up across the board. In all, Alaskans are bracing for a huge season – state managers project a harvest of 221 million salmon, 39 percent higher than last year. Driving the numbers are big forecasts for both sockeye and pink salmon. A whopping 59 million sockeye catch is set to come out of Alaska this summer, a 33 percent increase and the largest harvest since 1995. A sockeye catch of more than 38 million is projected at Bristol this summer. For those hard to predict pinks, the statewide harvest could top 140 million, a 46 percent increase. At Southeast Alaska, home to the state’s largest wild pink salmon runs, the catch is pegged at 58 million fish. Chum salmon harvests are expected to double this year to more than 17 million. On the downside, a coho harvest of 4.6 million would be a drop of nearly 2 million fish from last year. You can track salmon catches daily during the season via the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Blue Sheet. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Studies for fishermen's health; first yearly shellfish poisoning

How much are fishermen affected by long term health problems like hearing loss, lack of sleep and high blood pressure? A pilot study aims to find out and researchers are using the 500-plus members of the Copper River salmon driftnet fleet as test subjects. “The Copper River fishing season lasts five months and most of the fleet is very digitally connected so it seemed a great fit,” said Torie Baker, a Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent in Cordova. Baker is the point person for the project being done by the School of Public Health at the University of Washington and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, which is funding the study. “The genesis stemmed from wanting to take a proactive look at the contributing health factors and health issues that are in commercial fishing,” Baker explained. “They’re trying to compare what the offseason health habits and behaviors are versus what might be sacrificed or stressed during the fishing season. So it’s set up as a pre- and mid-season effort.” The things the researchers are interested in include hearing loss, the presence or absence of hypertension, the amount of exercise that can be documented during the offseason and the fishing season, and sleep and fatigue management. “That is a really big one,” Baker said. “The big body of literature on fatigue and sleep management in the marine world is largely informed by tests and research done in the military. There are a lot of folks in high risk occupations, such as airline pilots or truckers and ship captains where fatigue is a big driving force in productivity and safety management.” The first part of the study was a basic online survey that ended May 8. Another will be done in mid-July. At that time, volunteer fishermen also will take a basic health exam. Many also are wearing Fitbit watches to track steps and activity, and most importantly, to remotely monitor sleep behavior over a three-day span.  “It will be interesting to be able to do some remote sampling and see how those devices work in an outdoor, very physical industry to learn how that technology might inform researchers,” Baker said. She called the study an “intriguing first attempt” at helping an industry that  from a health perspective, hasn’t had much attention. “The ultimate goal,” Baker said, “is to learn ways to reduce risks and keep fishermen healthy. Clam diggers beware! The state confirmed the first case of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, was confirmed this month near Ketchikan prompting reminders that it’s the time of year to pay close attention to shellfish advisories. PSP is caused by tiny marine organisms in algae blooms often referred to incorrectly as red tides. The toxin is commonly found in all kinds of clams, and neither cooking nor freezing neutralizes it. PSP attacks the nervous system and it can be a quick killer. “It’s a thousand times more toxic than strychnine,” said Ray RaLonde, a long-time aquaculture specialist with Alaska Sea Grant in Anchorage. “It often starts out with a tingling around the face and extremities, the hands. Then it works its way through a number of symptoms, blurred vision, double vision, nausea, ultimately, paralysis and cardiac arrest. Death is very quick.” PSP is a tricky array of 24 different toxins, some deadly, some not, RaLonde said. Toxicity levels can differ from one clam hole to another on the same beach, and change with the tide. RaLonde says PSP levels also differ between popular clams. “The two most likely to be confused are littleneck clams, called steamers, and butter clams,” RaLonde explained. “Both are about the same size, so it’s important to be aware of the differences between the two. A littleneck clam is relatively nontoxic compared to a butter clam, which can retain the toxin for two years, so you can get toxicity off-season. Both can be dug in the same hole in the tide flats, but butter clams tend to be a little deeper.” No one is sure why, but Kodiak Island and parts of the South Peninsula have some of the highest PSP levels in the world. “The PSP blooms on occasion can be quite intense. In one incident, the level on blue mussels reached 20,000 micrograms. The FDA level is 80 micrograms,” RaLonde said. Some clam diggers test for PSP with their tongues, he said, and believe that if it tingles, it’s not safe. But from tongue to tummy, toxicity can increase six-fold. “To put that in perspective, at 20,000 micrograms I tell people if you eat a blue mussel your life is worth 11 cents. A dime and a penny worth of mussel weight and you just got a lethal dose,” he said. The state strictly monitors all commercially caught shellfish catches for PSP, but that is not the case for recreational clam diggers. The Alaska Department of Epidemiology claims those folks are playing “Alaskan Roulette.” Fish watch Alaska’s 2015 salmon season officially got underway on May 14 with the first 12-hour opener at Copper River. The forecast calls for a catch of 2.2 million sockeye salmon and about 6,000 kings. A dozen trawlers are tying up for the year early due to tripping the 2,700 chinook salmon bycatch cap in Central and Western Gulf groundfish fisheries. Only half of the allotted cod catch and 10 percent of the flatfish were taken when the closure was called last week, said NOAA Fisheries. The closure is set to last until the end of the year, although a re-opening is set for consideration Oct. 1. This is the first year for chinook bycatch caps in the federally managed (non-pollock) trawl fisheries — the total cap for the Gulf of Alaska is 7,500 salmon. The pollock and rockfish fleets are far from their caps and are still fishing. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Hatchery cos. dispute study faulting pink salmon releases

Alaskan salmon producers are not buying the presumption that growing numbers of pinks are eating too much food in the ocean, causing sockeye salmon to grow slower and smaller. That’s the claim of a new study by Seattle and British Columbia researchers, who say the race for food ultimately affects sockeye abundance and survival. “Our data sets extend up to 55 years each. In terms of looking at productivity or survival of salmon, they’ve included 36 sockeye populations,” said Greg Ruggerone, a researcher at Natural Resources Consultants in Seattle and study co-author. The project was aimed originally at finding causes for declining sockeye runs at British Columbia’s Fraser River in 2009, but has since broadened to include the whole North Pacific. “Hatcheries in Alaska, Russia and Japan have continued to increase production of salmon, primarily chums and pinks. Up to five billion hatchery salmon are released into the Pacific Ocean each year,” Ruggerone said in a phone interview. “Concerns have been raised at fisheries conferences that the release of so many salmon is impacting the growth and survival of wild stocks, including salmon originating thousands of miles from those hatcheries.” Ruggerone also has published similar food competition studies for Bristol Bay. So how does he account for big back-to-back red runs to the Bay? “Because there are relatively few pinks in Western Alaska compared to Russia, the sockeyes most likely encountered favorable conditions in their early marine life that supported these large runs,” Ruggerone said. “But that doesn’t mean the pinks don’t have an adverse effect on them during the second or third year at sea. It’s just overshadowed by very favorable conditions earlier.” The report recommends a Pacific Rim approach to managing salmon resources, and more immediately, capping hatchery production. “Do you think we can control Russia?” quipped said Steve Reifenstuhl, longtime general manager at Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture in Sitka. “If there was a cap, Russia and Japan would quickly move to fill any void,” Reifenstuhl called the food competition claims “alarmist,” and cited several peer-reviewed reports that refute Ruggerone’s claims. “My reaction is that he is speculating that there is a correlation, and that it is causative,” Reifenstuhl said. “I would disagree that it’s causative.” He pointed out that Alaska’s largest pink salmon runs occur at the Panhandle and over 95 percent are wild stocks. “Certainly increased competition can decrease salmon body size, as we’ve often seen in big runs, but it doesn’t mean more will die,” he added. “Where 10 to 90 percent of the sockeyes do die is in nearshore waters, before they even head out to sea.” Kodiak hatchery operators agree. “If the ocean’s carrying capacity has reached its limit, we wouldn’t be seeing returns like we had in 2013 for pink salmon, which also wasn’t a bad sockeye year,” said Tina Fairbanks, executive director for the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, or KRAA, which operates two hatcheries. “Look, too, at the Bristol Bay forecast for 2015, it’s huge, and it’s the same for Southeast pinks. I don’t believe it is a valid argument.” “I don’t see how we are a primary contributor on the grand scale,” said Trent Dodson, KRAA Production and Operations Manager. He also pointed out that Ruggerone’s Alaska pink salmon hatchery numbers are way off. Whereas his report claims that 1.4 billion hatchery-produced pink salmon are released into the ocean annually, primarily in Prince William Sound and at Kodiak, Dodson said Kodiak releases average 144 million juvenile pinks each year. State data show the Prince William Sound pink salmon release for 2014 was 672 million fish. The report titled “Productivity and life history of sockeye salmon in relation to competition with pink and sockeye salmon in the North Pacific Ocean” was featured in the March Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Capital celebration! The Sixth annual Juneau Maritime Festival celebrates fishing and every other industry that moves upon the water, and makes its home in the state capital. “Just the seafood industry alone — there are about 800 Juneau residents who make their living from ocean harvests. And we have the Coast Guard and NOAA, our marine transportation, cruise ships, just a myriad of other professions that are linked to the sea,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, host of the event. Several thousand people always attend the Saturday event, Holst said, which starts with the arrival of two canoes from the One People Canoe Society and a traditional Native welcoming ceremony. Events include a Coast Guard rescue in the channel, onboard vessel visits and a fillet contest. The date is May 8. Bycatch begone Alaskans have had it with high rates of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and a push is afoot to slash it by half. At issue is 6 million pounds of halibut allowed as bycatch in the multi-billion pound Bering Sea flatfish fisheries, a rate that hasn’t been changed for 20 years. At the same time, declining halibut stocks statewide have seen managers cut catches by commercial, sport and subsistence users by 70 percent. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is set to make a decision at its meeting in June and advocates are really putting on the heat. Last week in a strongly worded letter, 16 Alaskan groups and communities urged Alaska’s Congressional reps to push for the 50 percent bycatch cut, saying, “Conservation of the halibut stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen.” That follows a similar action in April by a dozen Alaska legislators who urged the NPFMC to make the 50 percent cut as soon as possible. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Hatchery salmon, season updates, and FDA 'Frankenfish'

Each year more than one third of all the salmon caught in Alaska begin their lives in a hatchery. There are 31 hatchery facilities in Alaska: 15 privately owned, 11 state owned, two federal research facilities, one tribal hatchery at Metlakatla, and two state-owned sport fish hatcheries. Alaska’s hatchery program is very different from fish farming, where salmon are crammed tightly into net pens until they’re ready for market. All salmon born in Alaska’s hatcheries come from wild brood stock, and are released as fingerlings to the sea. When those fish return home, they make a huge contribution to the catch. According to the annual Salmon Enhancement Report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 58 million hatchery salmon were caught in the common property salmon fishery last year. That equated to 34 percent of Alaska’s 157 million fish harvest, with a dockside value of $113 million. The breakdown by species: 56 percent chums, 47 percent pinks, 23 percent coho, 12 percent chinook and 5 percent of the sockeye were hatchery starts. Prince William Sound fishermen have the highest hatchery fish catches. Last year, 45 million salmon returned to the five hatcheries there, accounting for 87 percent of the total harvest; 93 percent of the fish were pinks and 68 percent were chums. In all, the Sound’s hatchery catch added up to 62 percent of the total with a dockside value of $64 million. It’s a different story at Southeast Alaska where 95 percent of the pinks are from wild production, and 85 percent of the chums are hatchery starts. “Southeast has the largest pink production in the state of Alaska,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, general manager at Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture at Sitka. Coho salmon returned in record numbers (1.6 million) last summer to the region’s 21 hatcheries, and accounted for 27 percent of the coho catch. In all, hatchery salmon contributed 12 percent to the Panhandle harvest and $28 million, 26 percent of salmon fishermen’s earnings. Reifenstuhl said he believes the hatchery programs in both Southeast and Prince William Sound are not likely to grow much more. “We have utilized the water sources we’ve been able to find and it’s not easy to locate a new hatchery at all,” he said. “I think we are getting to the point where we are not going to have major increases in production.” Kodiak ranks third in terms of Alaska hatchery production. Two facilities accounted for 41percent of the island’s total salmon take last summer, mostly pinks and chums. The hatchery catch value was $10 million, 22 percent of the Kodiak total. At Cook Inlet, small hatchery returns of sockeyes (2 percent) and pinks (6 percent) contributed $547,000 of the fishery value, or 2 percent. This year nearly 63 million hatchery produced salmon are projected to return home to Alaska, similar to last season. The Salmon Enhancement report also shows that over 180 Alaska elementary schools participate in hatchery salmon egg take and release programs each year. Fish watch Salmon trollers are back out on the water at Neets Bay near Ketchikan and it’s hard to believe that the 2015 salmon season will officially kick off in about two weeks at Copper River. About 35 boats have dropped pots for nearly 70,000 pounds of spot shrimp at Prince William Sound. A beam trawl shrimp fishery opens in Southeast May 1 for pinks and side stripes. Kodiak’s roe herring fishery was slow going two weeks into the fishery. Still no action at Togiak, where boats and five buyers await a herring harvest of 29,000 tons. Halibut landings have topped 2 million pounds, on par with last year’s pace. The Alaska catch limit this year is 17 million pounds. Prices remain in the $6-$6.50 per pound range or slightly higher at major ports. Nearly half of the halibut has crossed the docks at Seward, and that port also stomps all others for sablefish, or black cod, landings. Nearly 4 million pounds of sablefish have been landed statewide out of the 23.5-million pound quota. Dock prices reportedly have ranged from $3 per pound for small sizes to more than $7 per pound for large fish. The snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea is winding down with the fleet’s 61-million pound quota within reach. About 80 percent of the 15-million pound bairdi tanner crab catch has been landed. Commercial fishing also is ongoing for cod, pollock, mackerel, perch, rockfish, numerous flounders and more throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The Alaska legislature ended up lopping $8 million from the ADFG budget; $5.5 million of that from the Commercial Fisheries Division. Frankenfish watch As a decision to approve genetically modified salmon languishes at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C., the longtime activist group Food and Water Watch has taken the “very unusual” step of filing dual petitions to stop the manmade fish. According to the FDA Law Blog, Food and Water Watch filed both a Citizen Petition and a Food Additive Petition in an effort to block marketing of AquAdvantage salmon, should it be approved. The genetically tweaked fish grow three times faster than normal fish. The application has been under consideration by the FDA for two decades. Specifically, Food and Water Watch seeks to have the AquAdvantage Salmon listed as a substance which is prohibited from use in human food, the Law Blog said. “Under Food and Water Watch’s petitions, FDA would promulgate a regulation that would specifically and explicitly deem AquAdvantage Salmon adulterated food as a matter of law, irrespective of whether the food from AquAdvantage Salmon poses any risk at all to consumers. Seemingly unsure of how to go about making such a request of FDA, Food and Water Watch filed both petitions, each asking FDA to consider the other in the event that one of the petitions is not the proper avenue for making the unusual request,” the Law Blog said. If the Frankenfish gets the nod from the FDA, it will be the first animal ever approved for human consumption. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Lost blackcod pots in the Sound, and sputtering state fishery startups

A mile long string of 29 sablefish pots was lost last month in Prince William Sound after being run over by tugs towing barges at Knight Island Passage. “It appears that some tug boats passed back and forth across where the gear was set, and now we have no idea where it is,” said Maria Wessel, a groundfish biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office at Cordova. The pots are part of an ongoing tagging study started in 2011 to track the movement of the Sound’s sablefish stock. It was intended to be the third test run for the project. “We’re trying to see how well our population is mixed with the population in the wider Gulf of Alaska,” Wessel explained. The state research vessel Pandalus has done several swipes of the grounds to no avail. Both ends of the gear were anchored with 400 fathoms of buoy line with sets of three buoys each. Wessel called it “unusual” to lose a string of pots. “It’s buoyed on both ends and unusual to lose both and not be able to retrieve it. But it does happen as witnessed by this event.” Prince William Sound has an exclusive sablefish fishery that has been limited entry since 1996. Its 59 participants divide the annual 242,000-pound harvest using a shared quota system that is based on the vessel size and catch percentages of permit holders from 1991-1994. Wessel said the lost string of gear poses no threat to navigation, but sablefish longliners could get snagged. “There is a potential hazard of longline gear getting hung up on these lost pots and we want guys to be aware that is there.” The missing gear poses no threat to the 53 shrimpers out on the grounds, she added. “It’s highly unlikely. The sablefish pots were set in about 1,200 feet of water so it’s far deeper than someone targeting spot shrimp would be fishing,” Wessel said.  Fish opp flop Alaska is trying to provide new and more fishing opportunities inside state waters but the two latest have fallen flat as a flounder. A scallop fishery that reverted to open access this year drew no takers by the April 1 deadline, said Mark Stichert, state area manager for groundfish and shellfish for the Westward Region, which includes Kodiak, Chignik and the Western Peninsula. “We only had four vessels that registered, and those are the same vessels that have historically been participating in the fishery in recent years,” he said, adding that one vessel registered to fish for scallops near Yakutat. Stichert said he wasn’t surprised at the apparent lack of interest in the fishery. “The scallop fishery is a high capital investment and there’s not a lot of extra scallop gear laying around the state. So I think if the fishery were to grow, it’s going to take some time,” he said. Alaska’s Weathervane scallop fleet typically produces about a half million pounds of shucked meats each year, mostly dredged from federal waters, three to 200 miles offshore. It is pricey scallops that each year make New Bedford, Mass., the nation’s most valuable fishing port. In 2013, for example, the dockside value of New Bedford’s landings was $380 million; over 80 percent from scallops. Likewise, there were few takers once again for a pollock fishery that opened this month and will continue into June. It’s the second year for the trial fishery, and while it attracted a couple of Homer boats this winter, it’s only been tire kickers at Kodiak. The pollock catch limit for seiners is 100,000 pounds per trip. Even at 12-13 cents a pound, it adds up to a good payday. Icicle update Of all the global fish news sites, London-based Undercurrent News has risen to the top when it comes to scoops on sales of Alaska seafood companies. The latest: Icicle Seafood owners Paine and Partners of San Francisco are having a tough go selling their wild salmon assets in the face of a tight market and another big wild harvest on the horizon. Icicle produces fresh, frozen and canned salmon at plants in Petersburg, Seward, Egegik/Bristol Bay, Larsen Bay/Kodiak Island; and near Dillingham. “Final bids are in and news on if Icicle will be broken up, or sold as a combined entity should come in early May,” wrote Undercurrent’s Tom Seaman and Matt Whittaker. Other Undercurrent inside info: Thai Union Frozen Products is a possible bidder on the canned salmon side only. Trident Seafoods may be interested in the wild salmon business along with Icicle’s pollock block; likewise, Coastal Alaska Premier Seafoods, a part of the Coastal Villages CDQ group, also is named as a “strong contender” for those same components. Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture is likely to be the winner of the farmed salmon business, Undercurrent said, although Pacific Seafood Group is said to be very interested in the fish farms. Pacific also may be interested in taking on more, if not all, of Icicle at the right price. Asking prices are reportedly $80 million for the salmon farms, $125 million for the wild salmon part of the business and $100-$125 million for the groundfish, Undercurrent reported.  Good job, fish watchers! The number of U.S. fish stocks listed as overfished or subject to overfishing has dropped to an all-time low since 1997, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, began tracking stock status. According to the annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report to Congress released last week, by the end of 2014 just 26 stocks were on the overfishing list and 37 stocks were on the overfished list, a seven percent reduction in one year. The only Alaska fishery named to the overfished list was blue king crab at the Pribilof Islands. Overfishing means the annual catch rate is too high to support a maximum sustainable yield, or MSY; an overfished stock means a current fish population is well below that parameter, which can be the result of environmental issues such as disease. NOAA Fisheries tracks 469 stocks and stock complexes via 46 fishery management plans across the nation. The number of stocks rebuilt since 2000 increased to 37, the report said. “Our agency wants to let consumers know that the United States’ global leadership in responsible fisheries and sustainable seafood is paying off,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Subsistence sack lunches; ADFG budget; bycatch breakdown

Caribou instead of corn dogs…salmon instead of Trout Treasures… seal meat in place of spaghetti — all could soon be available to more Alaskans if traction continues on a new bipartisan bill before the Alaska legislature. The bill, House Bill 179, allows schools, senior centers, hospitals, child care centers and other facilities to accept and serve fish, game, plants and eggs that are donated by subsistence and sport users. Currently, well-meaning state laws intended to prevent the commercial sale of wild game make the practice illegal if a program accepting food donations charges for the meal at any point before it is consumed. This means schools and senior centers, for example, are unable to provide meals containing subsistence- or sport-caught wild food if they accept any payment, including from federal or state meal programs. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, introduced the measure, saying: “It will nourish Alaska’s children and elders, both physically and spiritually. It will limit the amount of expensive and unhealthy processed food shipped to communities that have incredible food available just a short boat or snow machine ride away. Children will develop an appreciation where their food comes from and elders will be able to keep eating the foods they love. “Out in the bush, a lot of people in Western or Northern Alaska will frequently donate caribou to the senior center, so that elders can eat caribou stew. And that’s technically not simpatico with the rule of the law,” Kreiss-Tomkins said in a KCAW/Sitka interview. “So this bill basically brings what happens in Alaskan communities — which is people coming together and donating fish and game for children or for elders — and makes that compatible with what Alaska’s laws say.” The measure affirms the Department of Environmental Conservation’s authority to oversee the safety of the donated foods. HB 179 already has garnered seven co-sponsors across party lines from Kodiak, Juneau, Anchorage, Ketchikan, Nome and North Pole. Kreiss-Tomkins credited its momentum to a statewide movement within schools to offer healthier, local foods, such as Sitka’s Fish to Schools program, Dillingham’s salmon donation programs, and community shared agriculture in the Mat-Su Valley. He said he is very optimistic the measure will pass this session. “We’d like to see pass this into law quickly, and we’re on that path right now. It’s got hearings coming up, it’s got a huge list of co-sponsors, and it’s a ‘kumbaya’ Alaska issue. Everyone gets it.” Fish budgets The (last) 10 days (of the session) will tell the tale of just how painfully Alaska’s budget will be cut. Three lawmakers each from the state Senate and House were appointed last week to a conference committee, which will dicker over differences between their respective budget drafts until they can come to agreements. They include Sens. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, Donald Olson, D-Nome, along with Reps. Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla, Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, and Les Gara, D-Anchorage. The lawmakers disagree on a number of differences in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game budget, reports Juneau Resources Weekly. The department is set to lose $12 million in state general funds; that could increase to $15 million depending on the whims of the conference committee. Already slashed by the Senate are a dozen conservation projects, and funding for Marine Mammal Protection Act compliance. Senators added $850,000 to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s budget, although it could be taken back if the committee opts for the House version of the ASMI budget, which stands now at almost $25 million. More buyers at Bristol Bay Copper River Seafoods has purchased the Extreme Seafoods salmon plant in Naknek. Company CEO Scott Blake confirmed the deal to Undercurrent News last week. “It’s likely no coincidence this comes as Copper River’s new sockeye salmon jerky takes off. Demand for the product — which is similar to outdoor clothing company Patagonia’s successful salmon jerky — had outstripped supply as of the Boston Seafood Show (in mid-March), at which point the company was looking to move processing in-house to a new plant and expand production,” Undercurrent reported. It added that the purchase “grew partly out of a desire to fill an increasing market need for Marine Stewardship Council certified sockeye.” Extreme Seafoods arrived in Bristol Bay in 2013, amid promises of $2 per pound reds for fishermen. It left amid gripes of slow or no pay. Extreme no longer lists any contact information on its website, but claims to specialize in wild sockeye salmon products. Bycatch breakdowns As federal managers grapple with reducing levels of chinook salmon taken as bycatch in groundfish fisheries, they are learning where the accidentally caught kings come from and where they are bound. A report by ADFG outlines the genetic origins of the chinook bycatch. Some highlights based on 2013 data: For chinook taken by Bering Sea pollock trawlers, 71 percent were estimated to come from Alaska river systems, mostly from Western Alaska (50 percent), followed by the North Alaska Peninsula and Upper Yukon. Chinook bycatch in the Bering Sea declined to 13,033 in 2013, over 24,000 fish below the 22-year average. In the Gulf of Alaska, pf 693 samples of chinook taken as bycatch in the pollock fishery, 43 percent were from British Columbia, 42 percent originated from the U.S. West Coast, followed by Southeast Alaska at 11 percent and the Northwest Gulf at three percent. For the Gulf rockfish fleet, 60 percent of the chinook bycatch came mostly from U.S. West Coast stocks, 31 percent from British Columbia, and 6 percent from Southeast Alaska. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

2015 salmon overload, petition for Chuitna salmon rights

File this fish story under the “can there be too much of a good thing” category. Alaska is expecting another bumper run of salmon this year — state managers announced a projected total catch of 221 million salmon, 39 percent higher than last year (the numbers for chinook salmon are still being calculated). Regional catch projections for this summer are up across the board, according to Runs and Harvest Projections for Alaska’s 2015 Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2014 season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Driving the numbers are the big forecasts for both sockeyes and pinks — a whopping 59-million sockeye salmon catch is set to come out of Alaska this summer, a 33 percent increase and the largest harvest since 1995. Those reds will follow on the heels of last year’s big haul of 44 million sockeye, tons of which remain in freezers. For those hard-to-predict pink salmon, the statewide harvest is projected to top 140 million, a 46 percent increase.  Chum salmon harvests are expected to rebound and double this year to more than 17 million. For coho salmon, a harvest of 4.6 million would be down nearly 2 million fish from last year. Alaska will be facing a strong headwind when it comes to selling all that salmon this year. Global factors buffeting sales include a strong US dollar which makes seafood more expensive for foreign customers with devalued currencies (conversely, it makes imports to the U.S. a far cheaper buy). The Russian embargo continues against U.S. seafood, meaning another big bite out of Alaska pink salmon roe sales; and large holdovers of Alaska canned salmon, both pink and sockeye, remain in warehouses. Another broadside to Alaska salmon sales in the U.S. will come from Costco’s announcement last week that it is switching the bulk of its fresh, farmed salmon purchases from Chile to Norway “to test the market’s appetite for antibiotic-free fish.” Costco purchases over 600,000 pounds of farmed salmon fillets each week. Fish pros speak out for salmon A group of 20 retired Alaska state and federal biologists and managers has submitted a letter urging the Walker administration to choose salmon over coal at the Chuitna River in Upper Cook Inlet. The public can weigh in on the decision through April 9. At issue is competing claims made in 2009 for rights to the water at Chuitna tributaries: Alaskans want to reserve the water to protect traditional salmon runs; Delaware-based PacRim wants to remove the water, dig down to bedrock and extract the underlying coal. Based on PacRim data, the first phase of the strip mine would remove 20 square miles of salmon habitat, and discharge seven million gallons a day of mine waste into the Chuitna River. The company plans to mine 12 million tons of low grade coal each year for 25 years for export to Asia. In the letter to Deptartment of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers the professionals said, “We are greatly concerned with the growing imbalance between resource development and resource conservation in Alaska regarding reservation decisions,” adding: ”Now, we are faced with one of the most important salmon habitat decisions Alaska has ever faced, and the reservation of water in the Chuitna watershed represents a historic precedent for salmon habitat management across the state.” DNR Water Resources chief Dave Schade agreed that the water rights decision is precedent setting, and that it comes down to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.” The public comment period ends April 9 at 5pm. Unless there is an appeal by either party, a decision could be made 30 days after. Contact [email protected]/. More fish for moms & babes For the first time since 1980 the popular Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is being revised, and the US Dept. of Agriculture is asking for input. Americans can suggest what healthy foods should be offered to moms and their babies — and Alaskans are pushing for more fish, notably salmon. “They want to hear from mothers, heck, they probably want to hear from kids too. They want to hear from the people who are actually eating the product, and raising their families on it,” said Bruce Schactler, Global Food Aid Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We are looking for pregnant women to comment, and mothers who have two- to three-year-olds, four- to five-year-olds, and mothers of infants who want to start making salmon baby food in their own kitchen,” Schactler said, explaining that the WIC items fall under designated “baskets” according to kids’ ages. Right now, canned salmon is only included in mothers’ pre-natal packages. “We want them to add salmon to all the WIC baskets,” he said. “They are reviewing that whole thing right now and taking comments in it.” Studies around the world show that omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fish support brain and eye development, and digestive health in babies and children. The Institute of Medicine is reviewing all WIC comments and recommendations until further notice. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

New Coast Guard safety rules; new fish aide for Sullivan

Volunteers are needed to help craft new safety rules that are being written for older boats, which includes the bulk of Alaska’s fishing vessels. Called the Alternate Compliance Safety Program, or ACSP, it is part of the 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act and is aimed at vessels that will be 25 years old by 2020, are greater than 50 feet in length, and operate beyond three nautical miles. The program will include most of Alaska’s fishing fleet — a 2014 maritime study by the Juneau-based McDowell Group shows that the majority of Alaska’s boats were built between 1970 and 1989. “The requirements won’t become mandatory until Jan. 1, 2020, for most vessels. However the Coast Guard needs to prescribe the program by Jan. 1, 2017,” explained Troy Rentz, Alternate Safety Compliance Coordinator for the USCG 13th District. Right now safety teams are compiling data on losses from fishing fatalities, injuries and vessel sinkings, Rentz said, and from that they will evaluate the risks based on the various regions and fisheries. “That is going to have a big influence on these programs because we know that each fishery has different gear and risks in different operating environments specific to what they are doing,” Rentz said. And that’s where vessel volunteers come in. “We’re looking for volunteer vessels where we could get on board and talk about what their best practices are for preventing casualties from collisions or falls overboard, for instance,” Rentz said. “We have some pretty good ideas, and we want to talk with vessel owners about things that have been recommended and see if it’s something that would be effective for their particular fishery and operating area.” In fact, a Congressional requirement of the new safety compliance program, Rentz said, is that it be developed in cooperation with the industry. “We want people to feel like this is their program, not the Coast guard’s program. It is a cooperative program that is specific to what they are doing and their operations.” Between now and early 2016, safety planners will be meeting with regional work groups and fishing stakeholders to decide what the actual compliance requirements will be. Then they are set to be written up and in place by 2017, giving fishing operators three years to comply. Other safety compliance deadlines are happening faster. By October 15 of this year, mandatory dockside vessel exams take effect. The requirement for survival craft that remove all parts of the body from the water has been extended to Feb. 16, 2016. Troy Rentz will be going over the Alternative Safety Compliance Program during ComFish, April 2-4 in Kodiak. Fish Watch Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has selected fellow Ohioan Erik Elam as his fisheries advisor. Elam was a former legislative aide for Rep. Don Young. In an email message, Sullivan said: “Mr. Elam is the Staff Director for the Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife Subcommittee, upon which I chair. Additionally, he focuses on energy, federal lands, fisheries, the Coast Guard, and oceans.” More millions were cut last week from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game budget by a Senate finance committee chaired by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla. The additional $2.1 million cut brings the total ADFG reductions to $15 million. Juneau Resources Weekly reports that commercial fisheries are set to take the biggest hit at $815,000. A half million dollars of that sum comes from compliance efforts for the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Sport Fish Division is set to lose more than $500,000; a dozen habitat conservation projects are set to be slashed, along with one habitat biologist. A $240,000 allotment for the state’s sport fishing enhancement and hatchery program is also on the cutting room floor. Trollers wrapped up their winter king salmon season last week, the earliest closure ever. The fishery opened in October and continues until the fleet catches up to 47,000 kings or until the end of April, whichever comes first. Participation was above average this winter, with 396 permits fished. The average price per pound dropped to $8.73 per pound in the final weeks, after topping $10 per pound for much of the season. Slow but steady sums up the wrap of Alaska’s first herring fishery at Sitka Sound. The week long fishery yielded close to 8,700 tons of roe-rich herring, down by half from last year. Less than half of the Sound’s 48 permit holders participated, instead opting for a cooperative fishery where boats split up the quota and each boat fished for a set amount. Sea farmers Growing less labor intensive underwater ocean veggies is an exploding market around the world, especially for products made from kelp. Globally, kelp drives a $5 billion industry. Some examples: Ocean Approved of Maine, which claims to be America’s first and only commercial kelp farm, launched a line of kelp cubes this month at the Boston Seafood Show. The cubes are aimed at the popular smoothie market, which has expanded the use of green veggie in its juices. The company also sells kelp “sea slaw,” “sea rounds” and “wraps.”  Ocean Approved began in 2009 and has been seeded with a half million dollars in grants from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries and the Maine Technology Institute. The company produces 33,000 pounds per acre on five acres annually and business has increased 400 percent in two years, according to the Casco Times. Kelp also is the latest crop that Canada’s fish farmers are cashing in on. The country’s largest salmon grower, Cooke Aquaculture, recently debuted its own brand of certified organically winged and sugar kelp. It can be cooked or served up fresh, and is sold under Cooke’s True North brand. Chile also is getting into the kelp mix. Based on a 2013 economic study, Chile estimates a kelp industry in its northern fish farming region would bring in $540 million annually. The growing interest and uses for kelp is not lost on Alaska, where a Mariculture Initiative is building support for expansion, notably in Western Alaska. Currently, there are 31 sea farms operating in Alaska; five are growing kelp along with oysters and other shellfish. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Stoltze fights for personal use priority, other fish bills move

Seven times is the charm for building some momentum on a measure that aims to give personal use, or PU, fisheries a priority over commercial and sport users. As it stands now, the three fisheries all are on equal footing in the eyes and actions of state managers. The priority shift has been introduced during each of the last seven legislative sessions by (now) Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, but has never made it past a first hearing — until now. “It only took Sen. Stoltze, the bill sponsor, chairing the hearing committee himself,” quipped Dave Theriault in his Juneau Resources Weekly. The measure (Senate Bill 42) is dubiously dubbed “The Alaskans-First Fishing Act” and it concerns salmon, without saying so directly. It “directs the Board of Fisheries to place restrictions on sport and commercial fisheries before putting restrictions on personal use fisheries when the harvest of a stock or species is limited to achieve an escapement goal.” The issue is driven primarily by the salmon demands of users at the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and the popular Chitina dipnet fishery at Copper River. Lawmakers said PU fisheries “need more protections from commercial fishermen.” “I’m more sympathetic to those in streams who see commercial fishermen taking tonnage where we’re restricted to poundage,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole. The PU priority got a friendly reception by lawmakers in a first Senate hearing two weeks ago. Stoltz said that the Board of Fisheries would still hold the authority to set fish allocations; he called a PU preference “an additional tool for managers.” Most messages sent to lawmakers last week were in favor of the shift in fishing priorities; of nearly 70 posted to the legislative website, only four were opposed. The United Fishermen of Alaska’s position on the PU issue has remained the same for seven years: the legislature should leave prioritization of fishery allocations to the Board of Fisheries and management to the Department of Fish and Game. The PU bill is now on its way to the Senate Resources Committee. A duplicate law has been filed in the House by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake. Fishy bills to watch A bill to limit all Alaska salmon seiners to a maximum 58 feet in length has been offered by Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan. A new law filed by freshman Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, would pull the plug on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and exempt Alaska from the agency’s ability to regulate and limit carbon emissions. Talerico filed the bill two months after retiring from Usibelli, the state’s only active coal mine, where he worked since 1974. The EPA is set to finalize new rules limiting carbon emissions in June, and will draft a plan for Alaska if the state fails to do so. Fifteen other states have filed similar laws to slow or fight the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon limits. The measure breezed through Alaska’s Senate Energy and Resources Committees and is on its way to Finance. Talerico also has proposed increases to fishing and hunting licenses for both residents and non-residents by up to 50 percent. ComFish is coming! Kodiak is rolling out the red carpet for special visitors who are coming to ComFish in early April. Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten, and commercial fisheries director Jeff Regnart will hold an open meeting the afternoon of April 2. Another highlight on Saturday, April 4: watch those fillet knives fly in a “fish off” among Kodiak’s fastest fish cutters, organized by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Each of Kodiak’s seven processing companies will field a professional who will cut into piles of halibut, flounders and other species. Each event is timed and then judged based on the trimming quality of the fillets. The top winner receives round trip airline tickets to Anchorage. It’s the 36th year for the ComFish trade show and policy forum, hosted by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. Dates are April 2-4, and many of the events will be video streamed as they happen. Names named Gov. Bill Walker has made his selections for two upcoming vacancies on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The council oversees fisheries in federal waters (3-200 miles from shore), which each year produce nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s seafood harvests. Walker’s recommends reappointment of fisherman Dan Hull of Cordova, who has been a council member since 2009. He also named sport fish charter operator Andrew Mezirow of Seward. Other names on the list include commercial fishermen Buck Laukitis of Homer and Paul Gronholdt of Sand Point, sport fish reps Richard Yamada of Juneau and Art Nelson, director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. The final decision is made by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who usually accepts the governor’s top recommendations. Fish Watch By the time you read this, Alaska’s first roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound could be just about over. The 8,712-ton quota is down by half from last year and the lowest Sitka catch since 2003. That, combined with historically low herring prices, has fewer boats fishing and they are doing so as a co-op. Blustery weather kept most of Alaska’s halibut boats off the water for the March 14 start of that fishery. Only 52 landings were made by March 20, totaling about 395,000 pounds. No reliable word on prices until more poundage crosses the docks, and the first fresh landings always fetch inflated prices. However, reports from the West Coast and Canada listed initial wholesale prices coming in higher than the past three March openers. reported $8.05 for 10/20s; $8.25-$8.50 for 20/40s, and $8.50-$8.75 for 40 ups. Anyone interested in weathervane scallops must register with Fish and Game by April 1. The scallop fishery, which was limited to about four boats until 2013, is now an open access fishery in waters near Yakutat, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Prince William Sound is closed to scallops this year.


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