Laine Welch

Crabbers fear shutdown; UAS offers troubleshooting courses

Bering Sea crabbers are again facing the possibility of a delayed fishery as congressional Republicans threaten to shut down the government, this time over federal funding of Planned Parenthood. A shutdown two years ago stalled the crab opener by two days, costing the fleet more than $5 million in food, fuel and other fees as the boats stood idly by for a week or more awaiting an outcome. “It was a huge mess last time,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We have a very tight time frame — when the fishery opens on Oct. 15, we need to be out there getting that crab caught, processed and on its way to Japan to take advantage of the holiday market.” A shutdown means no federal workers are on the job to issue permits for those holding catch shares of the crab. No permits, no fishery. “You have a situation where you not only have harm to the crab fishermen, but also to the processors in the area. You have an economic impact to a whole region because you don’t have somebody in an agency who is there to pick up the phone, sign the piece of paper to issue the harvest limits, nothing can happen,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The thing is, the Bering Sea crab fisheries are not beholden to federal dollars. The crabbers pay an annual fee each July based on their catches, which covers all management and enforcement costs (Alaska longliners with shares of halibut and sablefish do the same). “We’ve made the case that we pay our bills up front, we cover the costs of management, the money is in the bank and because this money is not subject to federal appropriations, the workers shouldn’t be subject to the furloughs and we should have the quotas issue on time,” Gleason said. In fact, according to the Federal Register, the fee was increased from 0.65 percent in 2013 to 1.48 percent last year and this year to cover increased costs to maintain and upgrade the permitting and Internet landings systems. That’s yielded more than $3 million in fishery coverage costs. “This is a program where the user fees cover the costs. It pays for itself, so you don’t need to wait around for a budget,” Murkowski added. The crabbers are hopeful senior fishery managers get the message, Gleason said. A government shutdown will have adverse impacts on all federally managed fisheries, meaning from three to 200 miles offshore. More than 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood by volume comes from federal waters. Train at home Many a fishing trip has been cut short by a hydraulics or electrical system break down, from a single pot hauler on a skiff to freezers on huge floating processors. That’s why self-paced, basic courses in both are offered to fishermen and other mariners online from the University of Alaska Southeast at Sitka. “There’s no class meetings, so whenever you have the time to get online and work through the material, as long as you have it finished in three months, you’re good to go,” said Teal Gordon, a UAS program support specialist. Fishermen brought the need for the training courses to university program planners, said Paul Rioux, who teaches the hydraulics course, the first of its kind, which was launched in 2011. “We jokingly refer to the hydraulics as the ‘ghost of the machine’ because a lot of fishermen have a real understanding of their engines and most of their gear, but few have a really good working knowledge of the technical side of how the hydraulics actually work,” Rioux said. “The real simple trollers or gillnetters only have an anchor winch or a set of gurdies or a net reel, but some boats have multiple systems with components controlling water pumps and freezer compressors and deck cranes and all sorts of things.” The hydraulics course takes six hours to complete on average and costs just $90. The Boat Electrical course includes basic theory, power generation and distribution, safety and wiring. “You get a 30-year-old boat and somebody adds something or takes something out and they leave the old wiring behind. Some of the wiring is just amazing,” said Alan Sorum, a former longtime Valdez harbormaster and port director who collaborated on the Boat Electrical course, now in its second year. A top feature, Sorum said, is the focus on troubleshooting. Just knowing the rights and wrongs of basic bonding and grounding, for example, would prevent a harbormaster’s biggest hassle. “Boats have AC and DC systems and if they’re not wired correctly you end up getting voltage or current in the wrong places and it causes all kinds of problems – for your boat and your neighbor’s boat – such as electrolysis,” Sorum said. “For me that was always the biggest hassle – someone would complain about having a hot harbor or a prop getting eaten up and it’s so hard to track down who’s causing the problem. The Boat Electrical course takes up to 15 hours to complete and costs $125. Both courses also count for continuing education credits and are available now. Visit the University of Southeast at Sitka or call 907-747-7762 to register. Fish watch Alaska’s salmon catch is nearing 256 million fish, well above the preseason forecast of 221 million. Hundreds of divers at Southeast Alaska will head down for geoduck clams starting Oct. 1 with a harvest set at 534,000 pounds in all regions but Sitka, which may not open. A sea urchin haul of more than 3.8 million pounds also opens that same day. The region’s sea cucumber dive fishery opens on Oct. 5 with a harvest of nearly 1.5 million pounds. Dungeness crabbing opens on Oct. 1 throughout the Panhandle. Kodiak and the Westward Region also will open for a sea cucumber fishery in October with a combined harvest 185,000 pounds. Alaska’s halibut catch has just over two million pounds remaining in this year’s 17 million pound catch limit. That fishery will close this year on Nov. 7. Fishing continues in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for pollock, cod and other groundfish. Finally, 11 Alaskans are in the running for one seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. They include the incumbent Don Lane of Homer, Hunter Mann-Dempster of Sitka; Doug Vincent-Lang, former state Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation; Karl Johnstone, former chair of the Board of Fisheries; Richard Yamada, a Juneau charter operator; Bob King of Juneau, former legislative assistant to Sen. Rob Begich; Stephanie Madsen of Juneau, director of the At-Sea Processors Association; Linda Behnken of Sitka, director of the Alaska Longline Fisheries Association; Jeff Kauffman, CEO of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association; Rob Edwardson, a former state environmental program manager, and Dan Hull (alternate only), chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Comments and support letters may be sent to [email protected] by Oct. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Crab takes a dip; marine debris Christmas ornaments

Catches for Alaska’s premier crab fisheries in the Bering Sea could take a dip this year based on results from the annual summer surveys. The annual report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries division, called “The Eastern Bering Sea Continental Shelf Bottom Trawl Survey: Results from Commercial Crab Species” (long dubbed the ‘crab map’), shows tables reflecting big drops over the past year in abundance of legal sized males for both snow crab and red king crab at Bristol Bay. Only legal males are allowed to be retained for sale. But there is a bright side — both stocks appear to have strong numbers of younger crab set to recruit into the fisheries in coming years. The crab surveys — done since the 1970s — are conducted using trawl nets during June and July each year, and cover a span of 140,000 nautical square miles. The data from this summer show that for red king crab, legal male abundance was 8.7 million crabs, a 30 percent decrease. “In 2014, the harvest level was set at 9.98 million pounds, so one likely extrapolation may be a reduction in harvests in the 15 to 25 percent range,” said market expert John Sackton. An encouraging sign is that 99 percent of the females observed in Bristol Bay had full egg clutches, indicating high mating success. According to Jake Jacobsen of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents 70 percent of crab harvesters, the value of the 2014 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, based on a dock prices of $6.77 per pound, was nearly $68 million. For snow crab, the survey numbers were down substantially, and Sackton predicts catch reductions will likely “be in excess of 20 percent” of last season’s 68 million pound harvest. The 2014 value of the snow crab fishery, based on a fishermen’s price of $2.04 per pound, was about $139 million at the docks. Last season’s biggest surprise was a whopping 15 million pound tnner crab catch, the largest in 20 years (bairdi tanners are the larger cousin of snow crab). This summer’s survey showed levels of male tanner crabs continued to increase, especially in the Eastern Bering Sea where the legal male biomass is the second largest since 1994. Most crabbers received $2.42 a pound for their Tanners making that fishery’s dockside value worth $36.5 million. The report also noted that for a second year in a row, average bottom and surface temperatures were warmer in both Bristol Bay and the rest of the eastern Bering Sea relative to recent years Catch quotas for the 2015 Bering Sea crab fisheries will be announced within a couple of weeks. The crab fisheries open on Oct. 15. Marine debris and the Christmas tree Four thousand ornaments representing Alaska’s marine life, landscapes, wildlife, heritage and more will adorn the 215 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree this holiday season. The Chugach National Forest was chosen to provide the “People’s Tree” this year, which will sit on the front lawn of the White House. Since 1970 the U.S. Forest Service has chosen a different national forest each year to provide the famous tree. Ten artists from the honored state are handpicked (in this case, by the Alaska State Council of the Arts) to create ornaments that reflect something special about their particular area. The artists also provide lesson plans and patterns for students and community members to make the ornaments for the People’s Tree. For Bonnie Dillard, a retired high school art teacher from Kodiak, her chosen theme is fish ornaments made from marine debris. “This isn’t just a cute idea, this is something that is trying to communicate a problem,” Dillard said. “Every time you walk on the beach you see garbage, especially plastics. When people are handling the marine debris while they are making the ornaments, I want the conversation to be about what happens to our garbage. And when people see the ornaments, I want them to think about the things they are throwing away and where it ends up. I’m hoping this will be an avenue to get the word out.” More Alaskan ornaments are needed by Oct. 1. Acid oceans road show A first of its kind, interactive learning tool to help people better understand the impact of corrosive oceans is traveling to coastal communities across Alaska. The Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, along with Cook Inletkeeper, created an ocean acidification educational kiosk, which made its debut two weeks ago in Homer. “Even though there have been a lot of scientific presentations in our communities, there hasn’t been a regular presence of information for people to learn from. Our goal is to make the science more understandable and more available so people can get involved in addressing the issue,” said Dorothy Childers, AMCC associate director. The oceans are absorbing more carbon dioxide than ever before from the burning of fossil fuels, which changes the chemistry to become more acidic. An irrefutable effect is that marine organisms, such as crabs, snails and shrimp, are unable to grow their shells. Kiosk visitors can press different buttons to watch and hear scientific facts and fears about ocean acidification from experts and fishermen. Childers said AMCC hopes to get funding to make the kiosks permanent fixtures at harbors throughout Alaska. For now, the plan is to share the one with other communities. “We are hoping that communities around the Gulf and Bering Sea will be interested in inviting the kiosk to come to their harbor,” she said. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Regnart retires at ADFG; Kodiak boat repair courses offered

Alaska’s fishing industry was dismayed by the sudden news that Jeff Regnart, director of the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division, will leave the job on Oct. 2. “I’m resigning due to family reasons, aging parents…I just can’t be in the state full time like this job demands,” Regnart explained. Jeff Regnart started as an Alaska Department of Fish and Game field tech in high school, and over 30 years worked his way to management positions at Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay. He took over as director of the commercial fisheries division in 2011, which has a staff of 300 fulltime and 400 seasonal employers and a $73.3 million budget for this fiscal year. By all accounts, Regnart has been widely respected and well liked. “It has been my great pleasure to work with and alongside Jeff,” said Sue Aspelund, who served as the division’s deputy director until she retired two years ago. “The State of Alaska is losing a consummate professional. Alaska’s fisheries and those dependent upon them have greatly benefitted by Jeff’s hard work and commitment.” “Jeff has been an outstanding director and he will be greatly missed,” said Linda Kozak, a longtime fisheries consultant from Kodiak. “The Aleutian King Crab Research Foundations has been working with the department for years on trying to develop cooperative research projects for golden and red king crab, and Jeff was instrumental in helping to create that important industry/agency partnership. Whoever takes over as ComFish director will face many challenges, and has some very big shoes to fill.” “Jeff demonstrated a deep dedication to Alaska’s fisheries and the sustainability of the seafood we all rely on. He was always available to address concerns and took pride in making the Division of Commercial Fisheries better,” said Julianne Curry, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. Regnart said things have changed dramatically during his four-year tenure as director, most notably, the budget belt tightening. “We’ve gone from a fiscal climate of growth — new products, new fishery opportunities — to one now of fiscal restraint. Now we’re looking at what should be left in the water, what can we give up and hopefully still perform the job,” he said. “I’m concerned about where we’ll be financially over the next few years. We have a plan in place to take care of the division this year and probably next year, but things are changing so quickly as far as the state’s fiscal ability to continue to provide state services. It’s hard to guess what things will look like.” Another big challenge, Regnart said, is a retiring workforce “Over the next few years we are going to potentially lose a lot of senior people to retirement,” he said. “When you lose that corporate knowledge, that resident intellectual property of what is gathered as we go through our careers, it’s hard to replace.” Regnart said the biggest change he’s seen over three decades is the rapid transfer of information. “We’ve really had to change our game on how we manage fisheries,” he said. “We have to be much more on the ball with written explanations and justifications because people want to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and they want to know it right now. So we’ve had to change how we bring data in from the field, how we process it, synthesize it and get it out into the public.” Regnart said while there always will be natural ups and downs, Alaska’s fish stocks are in good shape “across the board.” He is quick to credit his co-workers for any fishery successes. “My success has all been because of the people who did the work, quite truthfully. From financials to management to research every day they impress me. They are a rock star team,” he said. Regnart agreed that the economic importance of Alaska’s commercial fishing/processing industry doesn’t get full credit from most policy makers. “I don’t think it’s not wanting to know, it’s not being exposed to it. A large percentage of the legislature, especially the current leadership, are based in urban areas. Commercial fishing is something that is in the background, it’s not something that’s on their radar a lot,” he said. “I think it’s up to the department, United Fishermen of Alaska and others to get the word out. It’s a compelling story so don’t stop trying.” Deputy Director Forrest Bowers will serve as acting director until a replacement is named by ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten. Jeff Regnart will remain involved with Alaska’s fisheries as a consultant for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Boost for fishing jobs! Kodiak College is the first in Alaska to offer certification classes for industry-recognized, quality repair and maintenance standards in small boats. The program is an offshoot of the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan launched by the Alaska Department of Labor last year. Minimum safety standards for many repairs are defined by the nonprofit American Boat and Yacht Council, or ABYC, created in 1954 to develop safety standards for the design, construction, equipage, repair and maintenance of boats. “The fact that ABYC courses are now being taught in Alaska — especially in a huge fishing port like Kodiak — is a big deal,” said L.A. Holmes, Maritime Workforce Development Coordinator at Kodiak College. “Passing the courses means you are a certified marine technician for that topic.” Kodiak College also is now one of only seven Marine League Schools in the nation, meaning local residents will soon be trained to teach ABYC repair standards courses instead of visiting experts. As an example, Holmes said nearly all boat fires would be eliminated if ABYC wiring standards were followed. “We bring a lot of land based wiring practices to boats, which is pretty dangerous,” she said. “The solid conductors and wire nuts you use in your home are absolutely forbidden on a boat. Solid conductors will get fatigued and break and wire nuts collect moisture and cause problems.” Holmes said repair standards are being more scrutinized by business affiliates. “We’re finding that more banks, surveyors, lenders, and insurance companies are interested in whether or not a boat was built or repaired to any particular standard. If you meet some kind of standard, they are more likely to see that favorably in any sort of critique,” she said. Kodiak College plans to integrate all ABYC standards into its Vessel Repair and Maintenance curriculum that is being developed now. A four-day ABYC corrosion certification course is set for October 6-9. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Bumper haul of humpies adds to salmon price woes

Alaska’s pink salmon catch is pushing 180 million fish, making it the second largest harvest ever (219 million pinks was the previous record set in 2013). The humpie haul has been pushed by record production in three regions — more than 15 million pinks were taken at the Alaska Peninsula, compared to less than 1 million last year. Kodiak’s record pink catch was nearing 30 million, triple last year’s take; and Prince William Sound’s harvest so far had topped a whopping 97 million pink salmon.  All that fish goes into a competitive global market and in a word, the pink market stinks. There is still a glut of pink salmon products stemming from Alaska’s record 2013 catch, and devalued currencies are bedeviling sales with overseas customers. “We’ve had some big years backed up and that ripples through the supply chain and affects prices, and it doesn’t help that the currency markets have gone against us so badly during this time when our supply has goes up so dramatically,” said Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst with the McDowell Group. Exports typically account for 60 to 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood sales. Last week the euro was worth $1.14, down from $1.32 at the same time last year. And the Japanese yen was at 84 to the dollar, down from 96 to the dollar. “It gives you a sense of the dramatic shifts we’re seeing in the currency markets, and it has thrown such a change into the different supply relationships and the normal price ranges. It’s been very difficult,” he added. Another huge market hit comes from the ongoing U.S. seafood embargo by Russia — one of the biggest buyers of pink salmon roe. The roe usually accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the value of the entire pink pack, sometimes more. “Other than Japan, Russia is our largest market for salmon roe,” said Alexa Tonkovich, International Program Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Japan takes about $125 million worth of salmon roe and Russian takes about $46 million. The next closest market is China at $20 million. And if you don’t have diversified markets for a product you’re in a less powerful negotiating position.” “There is just not another market like Russia or Eastern Europe waiting out there with a strong currency to buy our pink roe,” echoed Wink. “It’s easy to see how it could drag down total first wholesale value by a quarter or a third compared to averages of years past.” Season totals for frozen and canned pinks have yet to be tallied. Cases of cans are still piled up from two years ago, keeping a downward press on prices. Alaska fishermen are getting paid on average 17 cents per pound for pinks, compared to a statewide average of 30 cents last summer. Sockeyes in the red “A perfect storm” of rough conditions is how market watchers are summing up sales of sockeye salmon. First wholesale prices for Alaska’s big money fish are down 20 to 25 percent on average across all markets, according to Undercurrent News. Sluggish sales stem from a huge supply, the overall average weight of the fish is puny making them harder to sell, and as with pinks, the biggest pile driver is global currencies. Fully half of the Bristol Bay sockeye taken this summer weighed in at just more than five pounds. Larger reds bigger than six pounds, most in demand because they yield higher profit margins, made up just 4 to 5 percent of the Bay harvest. The larger fish are wholesaling at $4.50 to $4.75 a pound, down 16 percent from last year, Undercurrent reported. Mid-sized four- to six-pounders are selling at $3 per pound, down 15.5 percent from the $3.50 to $3.60 paid last year. First wholesale prices for the smallest sockeyes bottomed out at $2.25 per pound. Fishermen at Bristol Bay received a base price of 50 cents per pound for their sockeye salmon this summer, slightly higher elsewhere. The statewide average price for sockeye salmon last year was. $1.37 per pound. Another market upset for all Alaska salmon prices is coming from that constant competitor: farmed fish. “Through the first half of 2015, fresh farmed Atlantic salmon imports — including fillets and whole fish — reached a year-to-date high by a large margin, driven by heavy imports in June,” said analyst John Sackton of “With official data available now, note that the U.S. imported record monthly volumes of fresh Atlantic salmon for both fillets and whole fish.” Seafood pros Alaska’s seafood industry depends on recruiting and maintaining processing professionals and Sea Grant helps build that specialized workforce. Each year its Marine Advisory Program sponsors the Alaska Seafood Processing Leadership Institute, or ASPLI, which provides an intense 80 hours of technical training, and the management and leadership skills needed to understand and succeed in the industry. The program is designed for mid-level managers in a seafood plant, such as assistant plant managers, production managers, quality control supervisors, engineers, human resource managers and administrators who are recognized by their employer as having leadership potential. Direct marketers and small seafood processors also are eligible to apply. The course begins with technical training in Kodiak from Nov. 9 to 13, followed by leadership training in Anchorage, Feb. 29 to March 4, and a trip to Seafood Expo North America in Boston, March 6 to 8. More than 50 Alaska processing professionals from 21 seafood companies have attended ASPLI over the past five years. The deadline to register is Sept. 30. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Eye on 'the Blob'; Crabbers drop survey pots in Aleutians

Fish deaths, drought in California, tropical creatures appearing in cold waters — those freakish happenings and more are being blamed on a giant splotch of warm water that for two years has been pushing against coastlines on the West Coast, Canada and into Alaska. “They call it the Blob because of its original circular shape on the sea surface,” explained Dr. Carol Janzen, an oceanographer and Operations Director at the Alaska Ocean Observing System, or AOOS, in Anchorage. “However, this feature is not static, it’s constantly reshaping itself in circulation from mixing, so over the course of two years it has spread itself along the West Coast.” The Blob, which spreads 1,000 miles in each direction and runs 300 feet deep, stems from an unusual weather pattern brewed up two years ago that caused a ridge of high pressure to stall over the Pacific Northwest. “Some people call it the ridiculously resilient ridge,” Janzen said, adding that the ridge reduced the intensity of storms reaching landfall, and led to reduced precipitation on the West Coast. The Blob’s most immediate impact is on the ocean’s circulation, a prime pump for the entire ecosystem. The warmer water forms a dense “oil and vinegar type” layer that reduces the amount of vertical ocean mixing, and prevents nutrient rich, colder water from reaching the surface. “And it is in this surface layer that phytoplankton grow and they need light and nutrients to do it,” Janzen said. “Since the phytoplankton are a food source near or at the base of the food chain, if you remove or reduce their quantity, or change their composition, it can impact the entire food chain.” The Blob has changed the composition in the organisms that make up the normal microscopic mix of phytoplankton — something that has raised a red flag for Alaska. Scientists have seen the arrival of an organism that produces a neurotoxin called domoic acid, similar to Paralytic Shellfish Poison. “It was significant enough in Washington to close some shellfish fisheries,” Janzen said. “In Alaska we haven’t reached that point, although we are seeing higher concentrations of the organism in water samples. It’s being closely monitored.” The Blob phenomenon is expected to remain glued to the coasts throughout 2015. Due to high public interest the AOOS launched a Blob Tracker on its website, Beyond the Blob The AOOS is part of the national Integrated Ocean Observing System, with a mission since 2003 to be “the eye on Alaska’s coasts and oceans.”  The System team monitors sea ice concentrations and movements in Alaska, and last week deployed an ecosystem mooring with advanced optical and measurement sensors that will remain in the Chukchi Sea for a full year. For three years, the AOOS has sponsored an underwater robotic glider that monitors marine mammal soundings from the Bering Sea northward. It also oversees wind and solar powered radar stations that track nearshore surface currents from Point Lay to Barrow. AOOS also is hosting its second annual Ocean Film Contest. Any short film under 10 minutes that highlights Alaska’s coasts or oceans is welcome. Top prize is $1,0000. Deadline to enter is Sept. 15. See Fishing for science Crabbers who target golden king crab along the Aleutian Islands are setting out pots for science. And despite cutbacks in research funding, the crabbers are expanding ongoing projects on golden stocks, and beginning a new study for red king crab near Adak. How are they doing it at a time of shrinking state and federal dollars? “Through cooperative partnerships between crab fishermen and state and federal agencies,” said John Hilsinger, Science Advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, a non-profit group started by crab harvesters four years ago. Golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands has been Alaska’s most stable crab stock for nearly 35 years, with a conservative annual harvest of 6 million pounds. Only very limited stock surveys have been done, due to the high costs associated with “doing science” at the distant, deepwater fishery. In Alaska, no surveys mean no chance for a fishery to either begin or grow. Two years ago the fleet partnered with Alaska Department of Fish and Game crab scientists in a project that showed the golden crab stocks are healthy and growing. The team also devised a method to survey the entire population of the Aleutian Islands stocks, a habitat spanning over 800 miles. That ambitious project got underway with the Aug. 1 start of the fishery. “The crabbers divided up designated survey areas, and are volunteering their vessels, time and resources,” Hilsinger said. “By using the crab fleet to collect the data during their fishery, we can survey new and larger areas than ever before.” In September, the Foundation is partnering with ADFG and the Adak Community Development Corporation to begin a “recon” project for red king crab near Adak, an area that has not been surveyed since 2002. The hope is to eventually have a small boat crab fishery in the remote region. Diverse fish portfolios Alaska’s total salmon catch has surged to 245 million fish, pushed by record-breaking pink salmon catches at Prince William Sound. The pink catch there already has topped 96 million, blowing past the previous record of 93 million fish taken in 2003. As Alaska’s salmon season winds down, many of the boats begin fishing for other things, from sea cukes to Bering Sea crab. “More and more you get salmon fishermen who also do dive fisheries or shrimp or other things in the fall. Fishermen have diversified and they fish a portfolio of different fisheries,” said Bill Donaldson, a fishery manager at ADFG in Sitka. Many of the bigger boats that tender salmon during the summer are prepping now for the Bering Sea crab fisheries that open in mid-October. Roughly 75 percent of Alaska’s 6,500 or so fishing vessels are less than 50 feet in length, and most are already planning their final lineups for the year. Southeast Alaska is especially busy in the fall with fishermen getting another shot at Dungeness crab, plus dive fisheries for sea cucumbers, urchins and giant geoduck clams starting in October. The Panhandle’s big spot prawn fishery also kicks off, and hundreds of trollers will be back out on the water for the start of the winter king salmon fishery. Pollock fishing reopened in waters off of Kodiak this week and boats of all gears and sizes will be targeting codfish in the Gulf starting Sept. 1. Halibut and sablefish seasons are underway until mid-November for 1,000 or more longliners. Fishing for an assortment of flounders, perch, mackerel, rockfish and countless others also will continue across Alaska all during the fall. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Chinook research victim of cuts; proposals out for board

One of the casualties of this year’s budget cuts was funding for a program aimed at discovering why Alaska’s chinook salmon stocks have been declining since 2007. A five-year, $30 million Chinook Salmon Research Initiative launched in 2013 included more than 100 researchers focused on three dozen projects in 12 major river systems from Southeast to the Yukon. Now the ambitious effort has been cut to just over one dozen projects. “When we saw we weren’t going to get a third appropriation this fiscal year, we had to step back and narrow the focus, and make sure key projects still had money to continue for at least the next two years,” said Ed Jones, a coordinator with the state Sport Fish Division who oversees the initiative team. The project has received two $7.5 million appropriations so far, and just over $6 million remains. “We’re hopeful that another appropriation will come down the pike,” Jones said. “These are long term endeavors and we’ve just now scratched the surface of the research.” Continuing will be chinook harvest sampling programs at Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Cook Inlet and Southeast. “Those projects are very important. They identify stocks of chinook salmon over time in our catches. You know the old assumption that you catch a chinook right off the mouth of a river and it’s going to that river? We’re starting to realize that’s not necessarily the case,” Jones said. Also saved is a new juvenile chinook tagging project at the Copper River. “For two years we’ve tagged smolt and clipped off an adipose fin as they are starting to leave the river. We also are doing genetic sampling,” he explained. “So when those fish start to return as adults to Prince William Sound, we will be able to tell what stocks in that catch are actually going into the Copper River and what stocks are going elsewhere. And in theory, we’ll be able to tell what the marine survival is of the chinook salmon over time. That’s pretty neat.” Initiative dollars also have helped fund a four-year, ongoing juvenile salmon tracking program that identifies chinook cycles and production over time on the Yukon. New programs that track adult salmon on the Kuskokwim and at Bristol Bay’s Nushagak Rivers are called “the most important ones we have going,” by the Initiative team, and so far they’ve learned there is a lot more chinook salmon in the Nushagak than anyone ever thought. “We have an adult marker/catcher project in the Nushagak and we compare that to the estimates we’ve been obtaining for many years through the sonar project,” Jones explained. “The sonar project is designed to count sockeye salmon and it does a really good job of that. But chinook salmon are kind of finicky and once the sockeye get in the river, they shy away and run more in the middle of the river and avoid our sonar array. We’re starting to realize there’s more fish getting by than we originally thought.” “I’ve always thought the Nushagak was probably one of the largest producers of wild chinook salmon in the world. And certainly with the Kuskokwim and the Yukon, those three systems in any given year could be the world’s largest producer.” Chinook salmon stock assessments in Southeast Alaska have been in the water since the early 1990s in response to needs identified by the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Jones said “they by far are the leaders along the entire coast in the field of stock assessment,” and he hopes the initiative can “move those methodologies northward to the rest of the state.” “During the downturn in chinook production, folks were asking why these fish were not coming back. In Southeast, our projects identified the problem was not the fresh water environment,” Jones said. “We were finding that the fish were dying in the marine environment at a higher rate than ever before. We couldn’t say that up north because we didn’t have the projects in the water.” Chinook salmon spend five years at sea before returning to their home streams to spawn, and their runs consist of multiple age classes, with five-year-olds being dominant. This year, the runs showed some hopeful signs. “Long story short — what we’ve seen in recent years is back-to-back poor brood year production over multiple years,” Jones explained. “But this year we finally saw a bright spot with that 2010 brood year, and next year we have very good confidence in average to above average production of six year olds. That’s a good sign, but what we really need to see is back-to-back good brood years. Then I’ll start saying we’re climbing out of the hole and starting to cycle in the other direction.” Big BOF agenda The state Board of Fisheries will take up 215 proposals during its 2015-16 meeting cycle, which begins in late October. The focus this cycle is on the Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay and AYK, or Arctic/Yukon/Kuskokwim, regions. There are 70 management proposals on the agenda for Bristol Bay, 24 for commercial fisheries. Halibut happenings  The interim meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission is set for Dec. 1-2 in Seattle. The public can submit regulation or management proposals to the IPHC by October 31 for consideration at its 92nd annual meeting set for January in Juneau. At that meeting the 2016 halibut catch limits, season dates and any new rules for the fishery will be decided. See more at NOAA Fisheries also is extending the nomination period for candidates to fill two U.S. commissioner seats on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Terms for the current commissioners expire this year on Dec. 31. A call for nominations in May only yielded names of two seated commissioners: Bob Alverson of Seattle and Don Lane of Homer. In its announcement, NOAA said: “While this recent solicitation of nominations resulted in two strong candidates, NOAA Fisheries is seeking a greater number of nominations from which to propose two candidates for appointment by the President. The lack of a larger candidate pool impacts the ability of the recommending officials to propose Alternate Commissioners.” Eat more fish! Most Americans are not eating enough seafood, according to a national study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study was based on an evaluation of food-intake data collected from a representative sampling of the U.S. population in a national survey called “What We Eat in America.” The research found that the proportions of seafood consumption varied by sex, income, and education level, but not by race-ethnicity. Groups associated with eating less, or no, seafood were women, people aged 19 to 30, and people of lower income and education levels.  “Mixed messages about the true benefits of eating more seafood seems to have deterred U.S. consumers from including more of it in their diets,” the National Fisheries Institute said in response to the report. Latest data from 2013 lists U.S. seafood consumption at about 15 pounds per capita. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected]

Salmon harvest inching to forecast; Gulf trawlers get kings

Alaska’s salmon season so far has been characterized by ups and downs, and it will be a stretch for the total catch to make the forecasted 221 million fish. “It just depends on how these late returning pink salmon at Prince William Sound performs, and whether or not pinks pick up at Southeast. It’s possible, but we would still have to harvest around 30 million more salmon,” mused Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division. One of the biggest fish stories of the season, of course, was the surprising double runs of sockeye salmon, or reds, to Bristol Bay. As soon as a slow going first run petered out and the fishery was declared a bust, a surge of late reds caught everyone by surprise and pushed the catch to nearly 36 million fish. Alaska’s sockeye salmon fishery sometimes accounts for almost two-thirds of the value of the total salmon harvest. A statewide tally of 51.5 million by August 14 makes it unlikely the sockeye harvest will reach the projected take of 58.8 million fish. Reds might be the big money fish but pinks are fishermen’s bread and butter, and Prince William Sound scoops the story there. Record returns to some hatcheries and better than expected wild pink salmon returns have pushed catches above 75 million and the humpies are still coming home. Will it top the Sound’s record 93 million pinks taken in 2013? “You never know,” Bowers said. Conversely, the much anticipated pink salmon boom at Southeast Alaska has yet to materialize with the catch nearing 23 million. “There’s still a bit of fishing time remaining and the harvest will continue to tick upward, but right now it doesn’t look like we’ll hit that forecast of 58 million pinks,” Bowers said. The statewide catch forecast for pink salmon this year is 140 million; the take by mid-August was 128 million fish. Other salmon highlights: Cook Inlet’s sockeye harvest of 2.7 million is just slightly higher than last year’s. Kodiak’s sockeye catches (2.2 million) have been lackluster, while the pink salmon catch of 14 million is above average. The Alaska Peninsula has been another bright spot for reds. Fishermen have taken 5.2 million sockeyes so far, nearly 2 million more than last year. And pink salmon catches of 9 million compare to less than 1 million in 2014. Chum catches in the Kuskokwim systems are poor, but sockeye catches at 55,000 so far are “reasonable.” Escapements for both sockeye and chinook salmon are looking better. Slow chum fishing is still the pattern on the Yukon River, where a 450,000 chum catch is down from over 600,000 last year. Norton Sound is having a back-to-back bumper season for chum salmon with the catch nearing 150,000, compared to a total take of 106,000 last year. Kotzebue fishermen also are enjoying a good plug of chums, with 245,000 taken so far. Better yet, they have a buyer. Overall, as Alaska’s total salmon harvest nears 196 million fish, Bowers calls it a good season. “I think perhaps the protracted timing at Bristol Bay and the different ways the runs have come in have skewed people’s perceptions of what the season has been like,” he said. “But taking nearly 200 million fish in one year is a large harvest.” Groundfish reprieve Trawlers are back out fishing for cod and flatfish in the Western and Central Gulf of Alaska, meaning bigger paychecks for Kodiak’s large resident processing work force. The boats got a reprieve from a closure in May when they tripped a new 2,700 bycatch cap on chinook salmon. At the time, only half of the annual cod quota and just 10 percent of the flatfish were taken. This is the first year that chinook bycatch limits are in place for Gulf trawlers, which have a combined allowance of 32,500 salmon, split among different fisheries and sectors. Fisheries for pollock, rockfish are well below their respective bycatch limits, as are the fleet of catcher processors targeting cod and flats. That allowed for some redistribution of chinook to the tied up trawlers, said Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator for the Alaska region at National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted in June to request by emergency order that an additional 1,600 Chinook be provided as bycatch to the cod and flatfish trawlers for the remainder of 2015. “Given the fact that we are all well below our limits in the other sectors, the council felt that amount was appropriate. It also is the historic average amount of chinook salmon that the fleet uses from May until the end of the year,” Merrill explained. Emergency orders are used very infrequently, Merrill said, and in this case the move was based on the economic impacts to Kodiak and its resident workforce caused by the early closure. “Depending on how you calculate it, that represents about $5 million in ex-vessel (dockside) value and $12 million in first wholesale value,” Merrill said. “Those numbers also don’t accommodate the fact that there are downstream affects — anytime you shut a fishery there are other economic impacts on processor workers, purchases in the community, utilities, other things like that. And that is definitely something the council considered when making the recommendation.” The pollock, cod, perch, flounders and other groundfish caught by Kodiak’s fleet of about 35 trawlers comprises the community’s largest and most valuable fishery — roughly 386 million pounds worth more than $73 million at the docks in 2014. “Shutting down the trawl fisheries builds a hole in Kodiak’s landings profile that erodes labor hours and affects these year round resident processors,” said Julie Bonney, executive director of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, adding that nearly all of the chinook taken as bycatch are donated to food banks and hunger relief programs. Merrill said the Council will begin to revisit the Gulf chinook bycatch caps in October to see if there are better management solutions. Fish fact If you don’t fish for a living or don’t reside in a fishing region, why should you care about fish prices? Various state taxes on fish deliveries equal 3 percent to 5 percent of the dockside values of the catch, and are shared 50/50 between state coffers and local areas where the fish are landed. Those fish bucks are distributed each year at the whim of the Alaska legislature. With commercial catches on the order of 5 billion to 6 billion pounds per year, adding or subtracting just one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly $1 million for the state and local governments each. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

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.


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