Laine Welch

Crab, pollock stocks show abundance in latest surveys

Alaska’s conservative management combined with the grace of Mother Nature is swelling the abundance of two of the state’s largest and most important fisheries. Bering Sea crab scientists and stakeholders met last week to discuss the outlook for Alaska’s biggest crab fisheries that open Oct. 15.  The takeaway was that the stocks of red king crab, bairdi tanners and snow crab all showed big increases in mature size classes, based on data from the annual summer surveys. (Only mature male crabs cans be retained in Alaska’s crab fisheries.) That has industry watchers predicting little, if any, change to the crab catches, said market expert John Sackton. The data did show some peculiarities though — there are indications that a spike in water temperature (by 2 degrees Celsius) might have redistributed the crabs into survey areas as they moved in search of colder waters. That could discount stock increases, Sackton said.   Raw data showed an increase in the red king crab biomass from 34,000 tons to nearly 48,000 tons, well above the five-year average, and mature females also increased. For snow crab, mature males increased from 58,000 tons to more than 105,000 tons, Sackton said, and the level of male recruits increased 40 percent to more than 140,000 tons.  The crab catch quotas for the 2013/2014 season were 8.6 million pounds for Bristol Bay red king crab; 1.6 million for Tanners, and 54 million pounds for snow crab. The Bering Sea crab fisheries are jointly managed by the state and federal government; the catch quotas are set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.   Similarly, Alaska’s pollock stocks may be at the highest level since 1982. Even better, trawl and acoustic surveys also showed several big year classes coming into the pollock fishery, said Dr. Jim Ianelli, NOAA’s chief pollock scientist. The Alaska pollock fishery accounts for 70 percent of the total Bering Sea harvest, and is the nation’s largest fishery. However, the robust stock won’t translate into a higher catches. The fishery is managed under a two million-ton cap for several groundfish species; last year’s pollock quota was 1.3 million tons, equaling nearly 3 billion pounds. Sockeye watch The sockeyes are still running at Fraser River in British Columbia, with the latest date on record for commercial catches. The total run now is pegged at about 21 million, and the harvest last week topped the preseason forecast of 10 million fish.  Fishing could continue for another week. Early prices for the Fraser sockeyes were at U.S. $1.50 per pound. Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch this year stands at 44 million fish. The 2014 Fraser River sockeye run will be noted for more than its healthy size. Seafood.com reported that warmer than usual ocean temperatures caused a change in migration pattern and almost the entire run took the northern route around Vancouver Island. That bypassed U.S. waters giving American fishermen landings of just 625,000 reds. The two countries share the Fraser salmon return in an 83.5 to 16.5 percentage split in the catches. The Fraser fish also fell prey to increased attacks of lamprey eels this summer. Fake fish fracas A group of 90 scientists and biotechnology execs from around the world is pushing President Barack Obama to expedite final approval of genetically modified salmon for U.S. markets. They urged in a letter last week that the Food and Drug Administration put an end to the long wait for final approval of laboratory produced salmon made by Aqua Bounty Technologies. The company has been trying for FDA approval for 20 years for what would be the first animal OK’d for human consumption. The scientists argue that the genetic techniques used in salmon are no different that used in the hundreds of millions of acres of GMO crops that are planted each year. The Frankenfish backers said that the Aqua Bounty salmon has met or exceeded all federal requirements and reviews, and called the 16-month review of public comments “unprecedented.” More than 1.5 million people wrote in opposition to the genetically tweaked salmon, and 65 supermarkets have said they won’t carry it. Sen. Mark Begich was the first to pounce on the prospect of “test tube” fish in a retaliatory letter. “These East Coast scientists should learn a lesson from Dr. Frankenstein — just because you create something in a lab doesn’t mean it is safe for the public. The claims that GMO salmon are safe are simply not true,” said Begich. Studies have shown that GMO salmon, which can grow three times faster than normal, can breed with wild fish. Begich said that escapees could decimate Alaska’s wild salmon stocks due to negligence, just as GMO wheat has been found growing in the wild — a development we were assured could never happen. “You can’t put the genetics genie back in the bottle, and that’s why I will keep fighting to make sure GMO salmon are never approved by the FDA,” he added. Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski co-sponsored legislation to stop FDA approval, and to require labeling if Frankenfish is approved. Murkowski has questioned if it can even be called a real fish.  “This takes a transgenic Atlantic salmon egg, which has genes from an ocean pout, somewhat akin to an eel, and it combines with the genes of a Chinook salmon,” she has testified to Congress. “I have questioned time and time again, why we would want to be messing with Mother Nature like this? We are trying to invent a species that would grow quicker to out compete our wild stocks. This experiment puts at risk the health of our fisheries not only in Alaska, but throughout the Pacific Northwest.” Fish trends New packaging, new flavors and easy to prepare meals made a big splash last week at the New Product Showcase at Seafood Expo in Barcelona, Spain. SeafoodSource reports that a product called “Sum Boxes” by Vivos Y Perecederos is self-assembled, recyclable and waterproof. Compared to expanded polystyrene seafood boxes, the Sum Boxes costs 30 to 40 percent less. Fish Snack’s by Savia Nature are crispy salmon and cod skins of in different flavors. Seafood burgers, sausages, brochettes and meatballs made of salmon, tuna, bonito and swordfish were presented by the company Josmares. Cream cheese with caviar also drew rave reviews. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Sullivan reverses, will attend Kodiak fisheries debate

Fish on! The lure of reaching a statewide audience was too much to pass up for U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Sullivan, who will be at the Oct. 1 fisheries debate at Kodiak after all. Sullivan was able to reshuffle a packed travel schedule to fit in the fisheries event, said Ben Sparks, campaign manager. Sullivan initially was going to be in Bethel on a multi-day swing through Southwest Alaska during the time of the Kodiak event. “Dan recognizes the importance of Alaska’s fisheries, and our campaign has rescheduled our southwest swing to ensure that Dan could make the debate. He looks forward to a healthy exchange of ideas with Mark Begich on the future of Alaska’s fisheries, and is excited to attend the debate in Kodiak,” his campaign said in a prepared statement. Since 1990 the fisheries debates have been an election year tradition and always have attracted 100 percent participation by leading candidates. The debates are limited to one topic: Alaska’s seafood industry. Sullivan, a former Alaska Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, will face off for one hour against incumbent Sen. Mark Begich, chair of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. Also on deck: for a second hour, U.S. House Rep. Don Young will debate fish issues against Democratic newcomer Forrest Dunbar, who said he is expecting it to be tough. “Don Young has 40 years inside the Beltway; it will be difficult to match his knowledge of all the federal regulations he helped create. But I worked as a commercial fisherman growing up in Cordova, and I care passionately about our fishing industry,” said Dunbar. “I’ll be taking my own preparation seriously in the coming weeks.” The Congressional Fisheries Debate is set for Oct. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. and will be broadcast live via KMXT/Kodiak and AK Public Radio Network stations. Naked truth World class fisheries depend on clean water and Southeast Alaskans are stripping down to make that point. “Water quality issues are becoming the biggest issues we have to deal with in Southeast. Long ago it was forestry, but as that industry has slowed down and mining and industrial tourism via cruise ships has sped up, our relatively pristine waters face more threats than they ever have,” said Malena Marvin, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council which has advocated for protecting the world’s largest temperate rain forest, the Tongass, since 1970. To highlight the need to keep it clean, the Council has launched the Inside Passage Water Keeper program, and aligned itself with the International Water Keeper Alliance. “We’ll have our own chapter here that will be networked with water keepers all over the world,” Marvin said. A Naked Truth about Clean Water calendar for 2015 is one of the items being rolled out this fall to introduce the Inside Passage program. The call is out for photos from Southeast fishermen, charters, whale watchers — water lovers of all kinds can bare it all, but demurely hiding the goods. “We want people to have fun and think of cool ways to showcase how their family or their business depends on Southeast Alaska’s amazing clean water,” Marvin said. “Obviously, we are only looking for G rated photos, so keep the fish or the kayak or what have you strategically placed.” Entries should also include a statement with your take on the naked truth about clean water. Deadline is Oct. 1 ([email protected]). Along with the calendar display, winners get “regional notoriety” and a T-shirt.  Fish watch Fall means it is time for fish meetings that shape the management and oversight for all of Alaska’s fisheries. The plan to rein in Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch via some form of catch share program will top the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s agenda in early October. Also up: setting a Pacific cod quota for a CDQ small boat fishery and observer deployment plans for next year. The Council oversees all fisheries in federal waters, meaning three to 200 miles out. The NPFMC meets Oct. 6 to 14 at the Anchorage Hilton. Closer to shore, the state Board of Fisheries will get its meeting cycle underway at a two day work session starting Oct. 15 in Juneau. Salmon and other fisheries at Prince William Sound, Upper Copper River and the Upper Susitna River start the regional focus this year, followed by Southeast and Yakutat finfish and crab management issues. The fish board oversees all commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries in state waters. It will meet in Cordova, Wrangell and Sitka throughout the winter. The meetings could get shaken up by the 27 out of cycle agenda changes being proposed by various fishing stakeholders. One third of the proposals come from Cook Inlet where big management changes were put in place by the Board last year.  Coming soon — catch numbers for mid-October Bering Sea crab fisheries will be out soon, followed by preliminary catch numbers for 2015 halibut catches. Hats off to the United Fishermen of Alaska, which is celebrating 40 years of advocating for Alaska’s fishing industry. UFA is the nation’s largest fishing trade association with nearly 40 member groups. An awards ceremony and banquet is planned for Sept. 26 at the Captain Cook in Anchorage. Veteran fisheries writer Wesley Loy is the editor at Pacific Fishing Magazine. He takes over for Don McManman who retired. Loy also writes the popular Deckboss blog. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Sullivan will attend Kodiak Chamber fisheries debate

Editor's Note: via Laine Welch on Friday morning: "Dan Sullivan is coming to the Kodiak fish debate after all. I confirmed it with Ben Sparks this morning.  So it will be an hour of Begich/Sullivan, then an hour of Don Young and Forrest." “Surprised and disappointed” was the reaction by Sen. Mark Begich upon learning that his opponent Dan Sullivan has bowed out of an Oct. 1 fisheries debate in Kodiak. It is the second time this year that Sullivan has declined to participate in the Chamber of Commerce event that has been an election year tradition since 1990. “I can’t recall a time that a candidate has not participated in the Kodiak debate,” Begich said as he readied to head back to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. “It’s a must-do for statewide candidates. It’s not an option. It’s clear he doesn’t have the same Alaska values as we do when it comes to our fisheries, and I think he is doing an incredible disservice to Alaskans. But that is his MO. He avoids issues, only shows up at very controlled settings, and talks in bumper stickers and applause lines and that’s all he likes to do.” Sullivan campaign manager Ben Sparks told debate organizers that Sullivan does not have a prior commitment keeping him from the fisheries debate, but that “he is just too busy with all the traveling he is doing.” The two-hour debate is broadcast live to over 330 Alaska communities. “I think it’s a shame because Alaskans will miss out on a forum that focuses on the largest employer in the state,” Begich added. “Seafood is our biggest export by far and nearly 85 percent of all the fish caught in Alaska comes from waters that are under federal jurisdiction. If you can’t even have a debate, how do Alaskans know where he stands?” Sullivan already has a reputation for shunning Alaska media and was criticized last week for avoiding a debate on Native rights issues in Juneau. “The Alaska way is to debate fiercely, discuss, find solutions to challenges, and move forward. It is not to abandon, run, hide and not talk to people who might disagree with you,” Begich retorted. “You have to show up in order to work together. He is unwilling to talk about issues that are important to Alaska, and leaving thousands of Alaskans wondering where he stands.” The fisheries debate will go on, said Trevor Brown, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. “We have pre-sold lots of sponsorships and lined up all the radio stations. Senator Begich will be there, and hopefully, other third party U.S. Senate candidates. We also are talking about adding an hour for U.S. House candidates Don Young and Forrest Dunbar if both can make it,” Brown said. History shows that since 1990, no candidate who has skipped the Kodiak fisheries debate has gone on to win their election. Case in point: Sean Parnell vs. Don Young in 2008.  Plug in! Electricity is any boat’s lifeline. A new self-paced, online course will show all mariners how to spot and fix basic electrical problems on any vessel. “You get a 30-year-old boat and some of the wiring is just amazing. Somebody adds or takes something out and they leave the old wiring behind,” said Alan Sorum, a former Valdez harbormaster and collaborator on the Boat Electrical Systems course offered now at the University of Alaska/Southeast.   Wiring is just one of eight modules in the course that use animations, YouTube videos and direct contacts with experts at the Sitka campus. Being able to deliver it on line and at a distance has been the “great bridge,” said Torie Baker, an Alaska Sea Grant advisor in Cordova and a partner in the project. “There’s been a real need for this basic but upgraded look at these kinds of electrical systems.  Classes like this help you systematically understand what you’re up against and how to troubleshoot it, and the tools that you need,” Baker said.   Both agreed a top feature of the electrical course is the focus on troubleshooting. Sorum said just knowing the basic rights and wrongs of bonding and grounding, for example, would prevent a harbormaster’s biggest headache. “Boats have AC systems 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,” he said. “Plus it costs money for the power, it causes electrolysis. 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 is open for sign-ups now. The 10-15 hour course is self-paced over three months and costs $125.  Contact UAS for more info.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Banning Russian seafood would pinch its king crab sales

If Russia won’t buy seafood from the U.S., we won’t buy seafood from them.  That’s the gauntlet being thrown down by Alaska’s Congressional delegation to retaliate against Russia’s year-long ban on food products from the U.S. and several nations. In a letter to President Obama spurred on by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the delegation wrote: “Our purpose here is to ask that your Administration respond to the Russian action with a two-step process. First, we ask that you use all diplomatic means available to persuade the Russians to immediately rescind the seafood import ban. Second, if Russia fails to comply, we ask that a ban be imposed on Russian seafood imports to the United States.” If a ban is imposed, the letter said, “It is critical that U.S. trade officials implement it in a way which tracks and covers all Russian-origin products throughout the distribution chain, including those that are re-processed and or transshipped through third countries. This is the only way the ban will be truly effective and will achieve the intended goal of protecting U.S. interests.” For Alaska, the Russian seafood ban adds up to a loss of 20 million pounds of seafood sales valued at $60 million, mostly salmon roe and pollock surimi. But the U.S. bite back would be far more hurtful for Russia. “A complete ban would upend the king crab market,” said market expert John Sackton. “Last year the U.S. imported more than $220 million dollars worth of king crab and snow crab from Russia. In fact, nearly 90 percent of the king crab eaten by Americans comes from Russia.” This year, imports of Russian king crab to the U.S. were 50 percent higher through June than in 2013, at 12.5 million pounds. (That compares to Alaska’s catch of about 8 million pounds.) The U.S. also imported 63 million pounds of frozen pollock blocks and 70 million pounds of frozen salmon blocks and fillets of Russian products, after reprocessing in China. Flying and tying in the Bay Thirteen new graduates of Bristol Bay River Academy are ready to guide visitors and help them work a mean fly rod for salmon and trout. The students mastered the “place-based” curriculum at the academy where they learned the basic skills of fly-fishing, casting, knots and fly tying. “They also learn the basics of customer service, and what it is like in the guiding and hospitality business out in the Bay,” said Nelli Williams, a program coordinator for Trout Unlimited, which runs the Academy with partners from all over the region. “They take tours of local lodges and we have guest speakers come in and explain about their businesses and what it’s like to be a guide. And the third strand of the curriculum is river ecology and biology and what keeps trout and salmon healthy. They get the whole picture.” The idea for the academy was spawned in a steam bath six years ago by local elders as a way to foster sustainable outdoor employment opportunities for Bristol Bay young people. “When you’re out in Bristol Bay you see a lot of fishing guides from the Lower 48 with people on our local rivers and they thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if instead local kids were in those boats with the visitors to our region,’” she said. The free, week-long academy rotates throughout the region and has so far graduated 66 students. Many have gone on to get other certifications and guiding licenses and work in the industry. An apprenticeship program is also in the works. “I think the beauty of this program is the opportunities it holds for both local young people as well as the sport fishing community in Bristol Bay,” Williams said, adding that the local guides are the most requested by visitors. “When it’s a rainy day and the fishing isn’t as spectacular as it sometimes is, our graduates can tell stories about what plants along the river you can eat and how their family preserves them, or about seal hunting in Lake Iliamna and what life is like in the winter — all of the things that inherently come from growing up in Bristol Bay. It certainly adds to the experience for the visitor.” The river academy is the only program of its kind in Alaska and she hopes the idea will catch on elsewhere. XtraTuf Training XTRATUF Boots has partnered with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, or AMSEA, to help expand their training, reduce injuries and save the lives of fishermen and other mariners.  The company sealed the deal with a $10,000 check presented to AMSEA at the Alaska State Fair last week by country music star Brett Eldredge. “XTRATUF Boots partnered with AMSEA because the organization mirrors XTRATUF’s mission — to support marine safety. AMSEA does this via training and education, and XTRATUF does it by building the toughest, most durable, slip resistant boots for commercial fishermen and recreational boating enthusiasts,” wrote director of footwear Sean O’Brien in an email. Since 1991 Sitka-based AMSEA, under the leadership of Jerry Dzugan, has trained more than 7,000 people in more than 700 Drill Conductor courses (more than 5,000 were Alaskans). The course includes hands-on survival skills and emergency drills onboard a vessel such as firefighting, emergency signals, Coast Guard evacuations, flooding control, cold water survival skills, life raft and immersion suit use, abandon ship procedures, man overboard recovery techniques, and more. Get growing A request for proposals is out for phase one of an economic analysis of Alaska’s mariculture potential. The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation believes it can be a billion dollar industry in 30 years and is funding the analysis through a NOAA Fisheries grant. The analysis will serve as a road map for a statewide strategic plan. Deadline is Sept. 19. Find links at www.afdf.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Chinook research begins; Fraser River prices decline with strong run

More than 100 researchers and three dozen projects are underway to find clues as to why Alaska’s chinook salmon production has declined since 2007.    The ambitious effort marks the start of a state-backed five-year, $30-million Chinook Salmon Research Initiative that includes 12 major river systems from Southeast Alaska to the Yukon. And while it will be years before the project yields definitive data, the scientists have pinned down some early findings. “It’s not the fresh water production of the juvenile chinook that is the reason this decline is occurring, it’s being driven by poor marine survival,” said Ed Jones, the lead for the Initiative and sport fish coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “We don’t know why, but once these juvenile chinook salmon are entering the ocean they are not surviving at the rates they once did,” Jones added. “And at the same, we also are seeing younger and smaller chinook returning to spawn and this obviously results in smaller fish being caught.” At each river system, the chinook team is estimating how many young fish are going to the ocean, refining estimates of how many older fish are returning to spawn, and tracking the marine catches. “That’s an effort to estimate the harvests of these 12 indicator stocks in detail,” he explained. “So we’re going to implement tagging programs on the juveniles and as they go out to the ocean they’ll be marked with an adipose fin clip. We also will include a tiny coded wire tag in their heads and those will be sent to the Juneau lab where we can tell when and where those fish were released. With those three components we can do full stock reconstruction.” Jones said his primary focus is on the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers because of the importance of Chinook salmon to subsistence users. “A major part of this initiative is to make sure we can help those folks fish when there’s fish around and pull the reins back when they are not around. But we need to gather the information that allows us to do that accurately each and every year. We are trying to learn from the users and gather information on historical harvests, what the people know and what they’ve learned for centuries. We’ll feed that information into our stock assessment program,” he said. Chinook salmon spend up to five years in the ocean and production goes through up and down cycles. A few years ago, West Coast and British Columbia stocks were said to be doomed — but they have rebounded and are at record numbers in some cases. Jones believes that’s what will also occur in Alaska. “The take home message is that productivity cycles and unfortunately in Alaska right now, we are at the low end of that cycle”,” he said. “We are experiencing a tough time right now, but it will turn around so don’t lose hope.”  Chinook checks The first installment of disaster relief money will soon be on its way to Alaska fishermen hurt by low Chinook salmon returns to the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet regions. Disasters were declared by Gov. Sean Parnell for those three regions in 2012, opening the door for relief payments from the feds. NOAA Fisheries announced last week that $7.8 million will be distributed in direct payments to fishermen for their losses. The payments break out at $3.2 million for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region and $4.6 million for the Cook Inlet Region. The checks will be administered by the Pacific States Marine Fishery Commission, and according to Sen. Mark Begich’s office, should be in the mail in September or October. More money will follow — Alaska’s Chinook Salmon Fishery Disaster Relief Program netted nearly $21 million out of $75 million approved by Congress for fisheries in six US regions. NOAA said the remaining funds for Alaska of about $13 million will be based on a second grant proposal that the Pacific Commission is developing using spending plans by groups identified by the State and Alaska’s congressional delegation. Fraser River update Prices for Fraser River sockeye salmon are on a downward slope as managers continue to call for a strong run. The first fish a few weeks ago fetched starting prices at $1.75 to $1.85 per pound, and then dipped to $1.65 (U.S. $1.50). British Columbia’s Fraser River Panel said the early summer run topped two million sockeye; they estimated the so-called summer run at 6.3 million reds through Aug. 20. The bulk of the Fraser run usually occurs at the end of August and no one is making any calls on that yet. Some are predicting a total catch of 10 million Fraser sockeyes, but that remains to be seen. State mum on mine mess Last week a coalition of Alaskans and some of the state’s largest fishing groups joined with the Congressional delegation to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene with Canada as five large scale mines prepare to go on line in watersheds that feed into Southeast Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers. The five mines are part of a larger mineral development push by B.C. Premier Christy Clark who has pledged to create eight new mines and expand nine more by next year. Alaskans are citing the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, which states that trans-boundary waters “shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other side.”     “Using that Treaty might get the Canadians’ attention. At least it would start the conversation,” said Brian Lynch, director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association. The state of Alaska has made no statements on either the Aug. 4 Mount Polley mining disaster or the threats the new BC mines pose to Southeast waters. Double ban whammy Alaska’s major seafood companies are calling for a ban on Russian seafood exports to the US, and are seeking support from the Alaska congressional delegation and the US Trade Representative. 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. The proposed embargo would remain in effect until Russia rescinds its year-long ban on U.S. foods, and also includes mechanisms to prohibit all seafood imports of Russian origin to the US, including Russian-caught seafood that is transferred through other countries before reaching this country. Hundreds of millions of dollars of Russian seafood imports are sold in the U.S. every year, with much of it coming through China. “We did not start this fight, and we hope the Russians will call off their embargo. But a U.S. ban will signal to President Putin that America will not sit idly by while Russia disregards international law and tries to coerce the world into ignoring its transgressions through retaliatory actions,” said Terry Shaff, president & CEO of UniSea Inc. Those endorsing the ban include Alaska General Seafoods, Alyeska Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, UniSea, Westward Seafoods, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Russia-Ukraine conflict impacting Alaska seafood markets

Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export and as it heads overseas, global politics play a big role in making sales sink or swim. That dynamic took center stage last week when Russia banned imports of foods for one year from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Norway and Australia in retaliation for sanctions imposed due to its aggressive actions in Ukraine. It is a direct hit to Alaska, which last year exported nearly 20 million pounds of seafood to Russia, valued at more than $60 million. The primary product it hurts is pink and chum salmon roe; Russia is also a growing market for Alaska pollock surimi. “After Japan, Russia is our largest market for salmon roe,” explained 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 (over seven million pounds). 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 and that impacts pricing.” Also in play — the ban on Norwegian salmon means thousands of tons fish destined for Russia are displaced and has to find a home somewhere. “And that is either the EU, the U.S., or possibly China or Brazil,” Tonkovich said, “and that impacts pricing for salmon overall.” Russia is Norway’s third-biggest salmon buyer — exports of farmed Atlantics in 2013 approached 300,000 tons, valued at $1.1 billion. Russia’s ban also takes a bite out of Alaska pollock surimi exports, valued at over $8 million in 2013. But that market is much more diversified than Alaska’s salmon roe. “There are good markets in Japan and Europe, and we see potential in Brazil for surimi products. So that may be a bit easier to absorb. The salmon roe is a pretty significant volume so I see a greater impact for salmon than for pollock,” Tonkovich said. Frozen pink salmon also will be affected, said John Sackton. “In 2013, virtually no frozen pinks were sold to Russia, but in 2014 that jumped from less than $250,000 to $3.3 million,” Sackton said. Even before the ban, the troubled political climate had ASMI’s international team planning new and expanding market opportunities for Alaska seafood. At this point, Tonkovich said uncertainty rules the day. “There is a bit of stress in the seafood industry right now,” she said. “Things are in limbo and it is hard to know how it will play out over time.” Polley wanna panel? The Mount Polley mine tailings disaster in British Columbia quickly prompted both Alaska U.S. Senators to urge the State Department for more oversight on mining projects on trans-boundary rivers. In letters last week to Secretary John Kerry, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both specifically referenced the KSM Mine being built less than 20 miles from Southeast Alaska’s border. Plans call for KSM to be seven times larger than Mount Polley and a similar accident could affect the Taku, Unuk and Stikine rivers, all major salmon producers. Murkowski and Begich are calling for a bilateral Panel Review on KSM and other planned mines that could affect Southeast fish and habitat, and for accelerated U.S. oversight before the B.C. projects are finally approved. The Red Chris mine is located in a watershed that drains into the Stikine River near Wrangell; the Tulsequah Chief mine is in the Taku River watershed near Juneau. Meanwhile, Alaska state officials are defending mine regulators in Canada, saying their environmental protection measures are as strong as those in Alaska or the Lower 48. Department of Natural Resources large project permit coordinator Kyle Moselle told the Juneau Empire he believes “the environmental assessment process in Canada is thorough and rigorous.” Moselle said the decision about whether Alaska will join the call for a panel review and increased U.S. oversight on the KSM mine will be made by DNR Commissioner Joe Balash, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig. Moselle said he is reviewing the KSM mine proposal and will submit the State’s comments by the Aug. 20 comment deadline.  It takes guts to talk fish Candidates for Alaska governor will be in the nation’s No. 3 fishing port next week to “talk fish” to a statewide audience. Gov. Sean Parnell, Democrat Byron Mallott and Independent Bill Walker all were quick to confirm several months ago. Since 1990 Kodiak’s Chamber of Commerce has hosted fisheries debates for Alaska governor and U.S. Senate candidates. The debate is limited to a single topic: the seafood industry. As always, the two-hour event will be broadcast live via the Alaska Public Radio Network, and streamed by host station KMXT. Check your local radio listings. The “goober” debate (irreverently short for ‘gubernatorial’) is set for Aug. 28, at the Kodiak High School world-class auditorium from 7 to 9 p.m. Dungies do it! Crabbers in Southeast Alaska just wrapped up their best summer Dungeness crab season ever. The total catch is pegged at four million pounds — the largest summer harvest since 2002, and a 142 percent increase from 2013. That makes for a nice payday for 150 crabbers who averaged about $3 a pound, up 50 cents from last year. The summer catch adds up to at least $11 million at the docks, making it one of the highest on record. Likewise for Oregon crabbers. Oregon is the nation’s leader for Dungie deliveries and that fishery also ended last week. Although the catch appeared to be below average at 14.5 million pounds, the ex-vessel value of nearly $50 million is the highest on record. Seafood.com’s John Sackton said that the huge growth of live exports has fueled the Dungie market, especially in a year with overall lower volume. Alaska’s most far flung crab fishery got underway on Aug.15: golden king crab along the Aleutian Islands. It’s the state’s most stable crab fishery with a conservative harvest each year capped at just over 6 million pounds. The crabbers believe the catch could be higher, but there have been few stock surveys due to distance. Starting this year, the fleet working with managers to undertake the biggest survey ever done on the entire range of the golden crab stock — an 800 mile span from Dutch Harbor to Atka. It will be several years before the data yields results — but experts believe Aleutian goldens could soon overtake Bristol Bay as Alaska’s largest king crab fishery. Salmon blast Help is on the way for Washington state salmon, where migration is blocked by dams or environmental hazards. A company called Whooshh Innovations has come up with a literal fish cannon! Salmon swim into a tube and can be shot more than 500 feet into the air, landing safely in waters upstream. A test run is underway at the Roza Dam 10 miles north of Yakima, with more planned. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Republican Senate candidates talk environmental regs

Breached mine tailings dams be damned! As millions of Fraser River sockeye salmon head for spawning beds polluted by a brew of metal toxins oozing from the Mount Polley gold/copper mine disaster in British Columbia, Republican candidates vying for U.S. Senate want environmental regulators to butt out of Alaska’s mining development decisions.    The three men hoping to unseat Sen. Mark Begich faced off last week for a Rural Alaska Republican Candidates forum hosted by Bethel’s KYUK. To questions posed by moderator Ben Matheson, candidates Joe Miller, Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan all slammed the Environmental Protection Agency for its plans to impose strict water requirements aimed at blocking the proposed Pebble Mine. Each candidate also agreed with legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate (by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and two other Senators) that says the EPA cannot use its authority under the Clean Water Act “pre-emptively or retroactively.” “To have the EPA come in and take power away from the permitting process is not necessarily going to solve the Pebble problem, and it’s going to hurt mines all over the state,” said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. “When I say solve the Pebble problem, this is something that we just can’t say we’re not going to do the science, we can’t say we’re not going to look at a permit. This is a big piece of our state’s statehood bounty and we have to be able to make sure that we’ve got that capability.  “As we go through the Pebble process, looking for an easy yes or no answer can have huge effects on other mining, other resource development projects in the state and we have to be extremely careful. And I believe the EPA solidly over reached on this one,” Treadwell said, concluding with a barb at Begich, who opposes the Pebble Mine, for “not letting the state make its own decisions and sending the decisions back to Washington.” Dan Sullivan, former state Attorney General and DNR commissioner, said “the pre-emptive veto is another example of this Administration acting in a lawless manner,” and he questioned if the EPA even has the legal authority to act. “When a company comes in and is asked by the state to explore the resources, which is what happened in the Pebble case, they should be allowed to go through the permitting process,” Sullivan said. “It’s state land, a project they haven’t seen the details of yet, and they are saying they have pre-emptive authority under the Clean Water Act — I don’t think they do. This to me would set a bad precedent all over the state. And I’ve been someone who’s had a career of not only talking about the EPA, but who has actually taken them on and gone to court against them.” Joe Miller agreed, saying the EPA “has been used as a hammer against the state.” “We have to push back against the EPA at every point we have,” Miller said. “It’s a state issue and the state should be in charge of it, and the state should do it in a way that the people direct.” And that is exactly what has been done, sirs.   The candidates disregard the fact that the EPA came to Alaska to assess the impacts of large scale mining to the Bristol Bay region after two years of urging by more than a dozen First Alaskan groups, plus thousands of commercial and sport fishermen and other residents. Super salmon PR Cordovans have long used a tactic to make sure their region’s famous salmon remains in the spotlight — they invite food pros from all over the country and show them the ropes. Eight visitors were in town two weeks ago for the annual sockeye tour, including a cookbook writer, radio journalist, food bloggers and photographers. “We showed them the Copper River watershed and how that is a big part of our fishery, we went out to the glacier and they got to see the sonar counting station from (Fish and Game) and the practices being done here for sustainability. We took them through a processing plant and out fishing on the Copper River delta, they met the state biologists and they got be a part of the community,” said Nelly Hand, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. A highlight, of course, was eating the fish in a sort of movable feast. “We did a moveable potluck with local fishermen’s wives’ homes in Cordova and had salmon cooked every single way — chowder and smoked and caviar,” Hand said. It’s the seventh year that Cordova’s salmon fishermen have invited Outside visitors to town and they bring a whole lot more along with them.  “Our guests were on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and sharing pictures and updates live of what they were learning during the week,” Hand said, “so people across the country could also have the experiences of what we were doing every single day.” Another group of visitors arrives in late August for a coho tour to round out the season. Hand credits the local fishermen’s marketing association for the program’s success. The State of Alaska created an opportunity in 2004 for fishermen to tax themselves on their catches (any species) and form their own marketing groups. “I think that is what makes it really unique — we are fishermen funded and fishermen run. Our board is made up of 11 different fishermen and that’s who is making our decisions and creating our programs. And all together we are working to maximize the quality of the fish that we are sharing from our region,” Hand said. “There’s a big generation of young fishermen out there who are really passionate about what they are doing. To see them put the work in and want to see their fish go as far as it can — it’s exciting to be a part of that.”    Who, What, Where Alaska’s jig fleet, which fishes primarily for cod, now numbers 244 boats — a nearly 220 percent increase through 2012. The jig influx is mainly from Southeast-based boats in what’s been a Kodiak-dominated fishery. The Bering Sea crab fleet totals just 83 boats — the bulk of those call the state of Washington home. Those are just a few of the fishing facts in an updated fleet profile through 2012. The user-friendly booklet is from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the overseers of federal water fisheries that produce nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s fish harvests. (Hundreds of other Alaska vessels fish for salmon, herring and crab in state waters, out to three miles, which are not included.) The fleet profile shows that 1,462 fishing vessels plied the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. It includes the names of every boat by gear type, average lengths, the year built, what they fish for and the hailing ports. Two-hundred-fifty-one of the boats are trawlers and 130 vessels make up the groundfish pot fleet.  The halibut IFQ fleet at 991 boats was down by about 100 from previous years; 382 boats fished for IFQ sablefish. Most of Alaska’s fishing fleet was built in the 1970s and ‘80s and while most people imagine vessels in the further away federal fisheries are huge, 80 percent are less than 60 feet. As to where the fleets call home — most of the crabbers and large catcher processors report Seattle as their homeport; most of the fishing boats delivering shore side hail from Alaska. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Vessel discharge exemption advances

Fishermen won’t need special permits to hose off their decks thanks to a bill moving through the U.S. Senate. That’s garnered a big sigh of relief from harvesters across the nation and kudos to a rare show of bipartisanship by coastal lawmakers, notably Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Marco Rubio of Florida. “The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act extends a moratorium that was already granted to the commercial fishing industry from 2008, and it’s been up every couple of years. It would extend this moratorium indefinitely so commercial fishing vessels don’t have to apply for a ridiculous discharge permit every time rain falls onto your deck and flows overboard. That’s incidental discharge to the normal operation of a vessel. So it just cuts the red tape that fishermen would have to incur,” explained Brett Veerhusen, executive director of Seafood Harvesters of America who has been watchdogging the discharge bill. The incidental discharge requirement is part of the Clean Boating Act passed by Congress in 2008. It provided a permanent exemption for roughly 13 million recreational vessels, even 400-foot yachts, but not for commercial fishing boats or other vessels in the maritime industries. The measure affects nearly 10,000 fishing vessels in Alaska alone, and harvesters believe the permanent exclusion should also apply to them. Veerhusen said it is imperative that the discharge dodge is passed before the temporary exemption expires on Dec. 18. “After that, commercial fishing vessels will be subject to permit requirements to test the water that runs off their deck from deck wash or even rain water,” he said. “That is completely onerous and ridiculous and burdensome.” The measure still has to get final approval from Congress, but Veerhusen is confident it will make it through. “We really appreciate the support that Sens. Begich and Rubio have been able to garner for this. It’s quite remarkable, and it just shows that whether you’re in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine or the Gulf of Alaska, fishermen nationwide feel very strongly about this,” he added. Seafood Harvesters of America formed in June and so far includes 14 regional fishing groups.  Veerhusen, who hails from a Homer fishing family, said the new group has been well received in DC. “It is welcome news to folks on the Hill to have a succinct national voice regarding these issues. Traditionally, fishermen have gone about trying to effect federal law from a regional standpoint and we are able to synthesize all of these voices into some common goals and concerns.” Yay Coasties! Aug. 4 marks the 224th birthday of our nation’s oldest seagoing service — the U.S. Coast Guard. It was launched in 1790 as the U.S. Lighthouse Service when the first Congress gave orders to build 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws under the newly formed Treasury Department. At the time, that was the only source of revenue for the federal government. It was called the Revenue Cutter Service until 1915 when it was merged with the Life-Saving Service and received its present name from Congress. In the Coast Guard’s Top 10 list of most memorable missions, the response to Hurricane Katrina ranks as No. 1. The Coast Guard is credited with saving more than 33,000 people after it took charge there. Two Alaska events made the list: the rescue of 520 people after a fire broke out and sank the cruise ship Prinsendam 130 miles off Ketchikan in 1980. In 1897, six Coast Guardsmen set off from a Cutter near Point Barrow to save the crews of eight whaling ships trapped in the ice. Using dog sleds, they brought 400 reindeer to the whalers in a 1,500-mile journey that took more than two months. The single largest rescue effort in Coast Guard history was in 1937, when a flood on the Mississippi River led to the rescue of 44,000 people — and more than 100,000 head of livestock. Today, roughly 40,000 men and women serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. They are credited for saving more than one million lives and counting. Kelp craze Kelp is the latest crop that fish farmers are cashing in on and Alaska could follow Canada’s innovation and success. That country’s largest salmon grower, Cooke Aquaculture, recently launched its own line of certified organically grown seaweeds of two different kinds — winged and sugar kelp. They are being sold under Cooke’s True North Salmon brand and both can be served fresh or cooked. The sea plants are grown in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy in a so-called Integrated Multi Trophic Aquaculture farm, along with blue mussels and Atlantic salmon. The floating farms are designed to mimic the natural ocean ecosystem and combine species that require manual feeding (i.e. salmon) with species that derive nutrients from the wastes of the ‘fed’ species. Kelp and other aquatic plants sustain a multi-billion industry throughout Asia, and more Americans are adding the sea veggies to their diets. Kelp also is widely used in foods and beverages, animal feeds, cosmetics and coming soon — biofuels. Alaska seaweeds got a shout out this year when researchers at North Carolina State University found that common plants found in waters and beaches near Sitka are super packed with compounds that fight obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. Growing more sea plants in Alaska is a focus of a new Mariculture Initiative that is building support for that industry’s expansion and enhancement. “We are broadening the concept of mariculture,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, and mariculture project leader. An area of special interest, she said, is Western Alaska, where no mariculture ventures have ever been attempted. “I believe there are things that can be grown out there — whether it’s an enhancement program or private shellfish or sea plant farming — there are things that can be done,” Decker said. AFDF’s website is www.afdf.org. Fish watch With a few exceptions, most of Alaska’s salmon fisheries are rather lackluster. By Aug. 1 the statewide salmon catch had topped 90 million and more than 40 million were sockeye salmon. Nearly 29 million of the reds were from Bristol Bay, 17 million over the preseason forecast. The statewide pink catch was nearing 41 million, with more than 28 million humpies coming from Prince William Sound. The glut of holdover pinks from last year’s record run has pushed down prices to about 25 cents per pound statewide, with a few cents more for chilled and delivered pinks. The Lower Yukon is enjoying its highest chum catch since 1989 at nearly a half-million fish. In other fisheries, jig boats continue fishing for cod and black rockfish around Kodiak and at Cook Inlet. Jiggers also are fishing for ling cod at Prince William Sound and trawlers there also are still targeting sidestripe shrimp. For halibut, 62 percent of the catch has been taken with less than 6 million pounds remaining out of the 16 million-pound catch limit. For sablefish, 68 percent of the nearly 24 million-pound quota was taken with7.5 million pounds remaining. Pollock fishing continues in the Bering Sea along with cod and numerous flounder fisheries. Red king crab was set to close at Norton Sound on Aug. 3 with a 354,090-pound catch, and the Aleutians golden king crab season opens in mid-August with a harvest topping 6 million pounds. Pollock reopens in the Gulf on Aug. 25. The biggest fish story this week is the Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast, which is seeing its best season ever. The total catch this year is pegged at nearly 6.5 million pounds for 150 crabbers who are getting about $3 per pound, up 50 cents from last year. The summer Dungie fishery closes Aug. 15 and reopens Oct. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Comment deadlines approaching for Alaska fish issues

Nowhere in the world do people have more say in shaping fisheries policy than in Alaska. While the outcomes might get mixed rants and reviews, no one is ever denied the chance to state ideas, concerns and gripes to decision makers. Several opportunities are available right now. First off, a revised draft of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, was just released for public review and comment. The MSA is the primary federal law that governs all fisheries management in U.S. waters; it is undergoing reauthorization targeted for completion at the end of this year. Comments will be taken until the bill moves through the Senate to the full Congress for final action. Find more information at the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard website. Comments also can be sent to Sen. Mark Begich, who chairs the Senate committee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard. Revised protection measures are proposed for Steller sea lions in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The changes could reopen fishing for Pacific cod, Atka mackerel and pollock for the first time in five years in certain areas. Comments to NOAA Fisheries are accepted through Aug. 15. It’s the last chance to comment on the proposed KSM gold/copper open pit mine just 19 miles north of the Alaska border. KSM would be one of the largest mines in North America, operating at the headwaters of trans-boundary rivers flowing to Juneau, Petersburg and other Southeast Alaska regions. Currently, there are no enforceable policies in place to safeguard Alaska’s fish and clean water from upstream industrial development. The deadline to comment is Aug. 20. The public has until Sept. 19 to comment to the Environmental Protection Agency on its intent to protect salmon and habitat at Bristol Bay by imposing tough watershed restrictions on large mines in the region. The EPA has scheduled a series of seven public hearings starting Aug. 12 in Anchorage, followed by meetings throughout the Bristol Bay region.  Fish skin baskets Audrey Armstrong of Galena remembers the day she was first inspired to make beautiful things from salmon skins. It was Sept. 4, 2002, and she was mesmerized by a king salmon she had caught. “The colors were so beautiful, and I said to myself, I know a long time ago they used to make garments and baskets and different containers out of fish skin. I wonder if I could make something out of this skin. And that is how I started,” Armstrong said in a phone interview. It was difficult to learn the traditional techniques, as the history for the old ways was lost. “There was nothing really written. And I think the oldest piece I saw from my culture was from 1849. It was a child’s mittens made out of fish skins. They are so beautiful. So now the majority of us working with fish skin it is all by trial and error, and by talking to other people who are working with fish skin and trying to bring it back. We are all learning from each other,” she said. Armstrong uses an ulu to clean and scrape any fat from the skins, which keeps them from spoiling. She cleans and freezes the skins and hand sews each piece as it is pulled from a cooler.  “Because it will dry out real fast as you are sewing, so you have to keep putting it back in the cooler,” she said. “And then you put it over your mold and it becomes a basket, or a vase or a bag. It becomes whatever you are making. So my baskets have this hard surface to the skin and then I decorate them with beads, abalone shells, and dentalia shells, which represent the status of our Athabascan chiefs.”
 Armstrong’s favorite fish skin to work with is king salmon. She has won numerous art awards for her work, which is displayed across Alaska and elsewhere. She also shares her skill at workshops all over the state.   New fish advisor Gov. Sean Parnell on July 25 appointed Ben Mohr as his new fisheries advisor. Mohr previously was public information specialist for the Pebble Partnership for six years, and was former campaign manager for Dan Sullivan, candidate for U.S. Senate. Mohr replaces Stephanie Moreland as the governor’s fisheries advisor. Fish funds Two Sitka fishing projects received grant awards from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s  Fisheries Innovation Fund, a program launched in 2010 to support sustainable U.S. fisheries and fishermen. The Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust received $135,000 to develop and deploy processes “for inter-generational transfer of fishery rights and best practices.” The proposed project “utilizes existing legal and financial mechanisms in a novel way to achieve the goal of increased retention of economic benefits from fisheries in Gulf of Alaska communities.” Another $38,000 went to the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association to move electronic monitoring systems from a pilot stage to use out on the water. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run strong, but prices aren't

It came as no surprise when the first price postings last week tanked for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon to $1.20 per pound, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish. That compares to a base price of $1.50 a pound last year. The Bristol Bay catch topped 28 million reds by July 18, 11 million more than projected, and the fish were still coming. (Alaska’s total sockeye salmon catch as of July 18 was more than 37 million and counting.) Demand for the fish is strong among both foreign and U.S. buyers, but the downward press on prices stems from lots of competing red salmon rivals in the works this year. The sockeye run at the lower Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam set a record last week, topping a half-million fish, the most since the dam was completed in 1938. Russia’s sockeye salmon catches topped 31 million early in July, and that number will go higher. And all eyes will be on British Columbia’s Fraser River, where sockeyes are just beginning to show. The largest sockeye return in 100 years is expected at the Fraser this summer, up to 75 million fish. It’s a matter of wait-and-see if the Fraser run materializes in the next month. If it fizzles, it could mean some nice retro payments for Alaska salmon fishermen months from now after most of the sales are made. But it remains to be seen how all the sockeye dynamics play out in global markets, both this year and next. “If we get more Russian sockeye coming into our more premium markets, if we get a large Fraser River harvest, and if processors aren’t able to move a lot of the product before that happens, then we could see wholesale values take quite a tumble,” said Andy Wink, lead fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Juneau. “We will have to see how things shake out, because a lot will happen after our season is done. But processors are going to have to pay a certain amount to assure themselves of supply in the bay this year. Where that comes in next year will depend on what happens this fall at Fraser River.” Pebble push back First Alaskans, fishermen and sportsmen around the country applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it plans to impose restrictions on large scale mining operations in the Bristol Bay region, such as the proposed Pebble Mine. A draft report released last week said development of such a mine would have “unacceptable adverse impacts” to the Bristol Bay watershed, and that the action is necessary “to protect the world’s greatest salmon fishery” from what the EPA called “an open pit for copper and gold extraction nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon.” The EPA began an official push in February to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from large scale mining. In May, Pebble owners sued to stop EPA from shutting down the mining project and the state has sided with Pebble in the lawsuit. EPA administrator Dennis McLerran said on July 18 that the agency’s action is not a “preemptive veto” before the mine owners apply for a permit. Using its authority under the Clean Water Act, the EPA proposes to ban any mine that would destroy more than 5 miles of salmon streams, or 19 miles of tributaries; fill in 1,100 or more acres of wetlands; and reroute flows of salmon streams. Public meetings in Alaska are scheduled in August. The deadline to comment on the EPA report is Sept. 19. Dock talk In a nod to gender neutrality, bureaucrats and media have adopted the term “fisher” when referring to those who harvest fish from the sea. Here’s a sampler of Kodiak responses when fishing men and women were asked how they feel about the term: • “I would much rather be called a fisherman than a fisher women. I don’t want to be treated like a woman on the boat. I want to be treated like a crew member.” • “As a woman I have always considered myself a fisherman. My dad has always taught me how to fish, and I feel like it is something that is important to many families. I think it should stay the way that it is” • “You can put too much weight on the gender bias thing. Accept people for who they are. Why do we have to change it because somebody is offended? We are changing so many things in this country because somebody is offended.” • “It’s been used for hundreds of years. Whether you’re a fisher guy or a fisher woman, it’s always been fisherman.” • “A fisherman is a fisherman. That’s the term. This gender neutrality has gone too far.” • “I’m offended to change. And I’m tired of it. An oldsquaw (sea duck) will always be an oldsquaw and they came up with a new name for that duck (long-tailed).” • “I understand it is a historical thing. It eliminates the women and it would be nice to have something, but fisher is not it.” • “A fisher person would be just fine. And if a woman wants to be called a fisher lady, that would be acceptable as well.” • “A fisherman will always be a fisherman. Whether it is a female, boy, child, man, or woman. It doesn’t really matter.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Glacial melt changes ocean chemistry, study says crabs hear

Ocean chemists are calling it “revolutionary technology” as unmanned gliders track how melting glaciers may be intensifying corrosive waters in Prince William Sound. “It’s been hugely successful. We’ve flown these things all over inside and outside of Prince William Sound, we’ve had great control over them, we’ve been able to move them to exactly where we want them to be. They are making thousands of measurements all over,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of the Ocean Environment Research Division at the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle. Mathis also is an affiliate faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and oversees studies at Newport, Ore. In different regions of the world, natural processes (like glacial melt) are worsening the effects of ocean acidification so that a region like Prince William Sound may already be preconditioned, Mathis explained. Ocean acidification is a global phenomenon being driven by increased, human produced levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. It is changing the chemistry of the entire ocean at a slow, methodical pace. “So now we have this anthropogenic (manmade) process combining with natural process, and it makes some regions more vulnerable to the impacts of ocean acidification than others. And Prince William Sound is very high up on that list because of the processes that go on inside of it.” Since May, two Carbon Wave Gliders resembling yellow surfboards have been propelled around the Sound by wave motions to test surface water conditions. The gliders are controlled remotely back in the Seattle lab with an iPad. Another so-called Slocum Glider, also controlled remotely, resembles a yellow torpedo and makes dives down to 600 feet and then resurfaces.     “It makes these gliding, up and down profiles and when it breaks the surface, all the data is transmitted via satellite back to the labs. It’s been working flawlessly,” Mathis said.  Prior to using the gliders, researchers were limited to contracting with boats and crews and taking only about four water samples each year. “This is a revolution. I’ve been working on ocean acidification in Prince William Sound for six years and ship time is so expensive, that’s all we could afford to do. That has severely limited our ability to understand what’s going on because we don’t have the opportunity to collect more than a few data points every year. These gliders are a fraction of the cost and we can leave them out for five months,” he added. “It will change the way we collect data, the way we can understand ecosystem environmental processes. The ultimate goal is to make sure we understand what is going on with the fisheries and the biology and communicate that back to the fishing communities and stakeholders in Alaska.” The gliders were tested once off the West Coast, but the PWS project is the first time they’ve really been let loose, Mathis said.    “To hedge our bets, we have people we can call with fast boats in Valdez, Seward and Whittier if a glider gets run over by a tanker, or it dies for some reason. So we have this human insurance policy if we do have trouble and they can get to them for us,” he said.   The data is already showing some preliminary results. “We are seeing that the glacial plume inside and moving out into the Gulf of Alaska is far more extensive than we thought it was going to be. One of our conclusions is that the glaciers are having quite an extensive impact on the water chemistry of Prince William Sound,” Mathis said. The unmanned gliders will soon be deployed throughout the entire Gulf, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Crabs can hear Creepy soundtracks of noises made by predators had mud crabs running for shelter and proved, for the first time, that the animals can hear. Marine acoustic experts at Boston’s Northeastern University made the discovery in lab tests on 200 mud crabs during a two-year study. When they piped in certain noises, the crabs didn’t dare venture out to eat juicy clams placed in their tanks and their skittishness lasted for several hours. The scientists said the crabs hear through a small sac at the base of their antennae called a statocyst. It contains thousands of sen¬sory hairs impor¬tant for the animal’s bal¬ance but also, the study found, for responding to sounds. Might it be the same for Alaska crab?  “That’s unknown. I’m not aware of any studies that have gone into that level of detail on the sensory organs or abilities of any of the commercial crab species in Alaska,” said Bob Foy, director of NOAA Fisheries top crab lab at Kodiak. “I would not be surprised if it was the same,” he added. “Sound is just a pressure wave, so I’m not surprised that the crab can hear the sound. The interesting fact is how they are reacting to a predator or to another organism being there, and being able to measure that stress that the animal is undergoing at the same time.” Other studies showed that ship sounds affected foraging behavior of shore crabs. Foy said all of the findings can be important for crab scientists and managers on a couple of fronts. “Just knowing that the animals have that additional sensory capability is huge for us to understand how they are interacting with their environment. Crab communication is very important,” he explained. “We are trying to understand the behavior of the crab, such as how the males and females find each other. Crabs don’t broadcast spawn like a fish does; they have to find each other in a very large ocean. So knowing more about their behaviors at that level would be critical for understanding how these animals are moving throughout their environment. Another thing is how the impacts of sonar from oil drilling or ship noises and other kinds of sensory environmental impacts may or may not affect these animals. Knowing that they do have this (hearing) sensitivity helps us think about how we might test for these things.”    Foy called the crab hearing studies “fascinating” and hopes they continue. Foy says he hopes the crab hearing studies continue.  “If you had asked me if crabs can hear prior to this, I probably would have said they probably have a way of detecting sound,” he said. “But seeing how they are detecting it and then responding to noises and other predators is very intriguing in terms of how we might be able to use this in the future. Fish prices impact state, local governments The various business and landing taxes on fish usually equal 3 to 5 percent of the dockside values, and are shared 50-50 between the local areas where the fish is delivered and state coffers, to be distributed at the whim of the Alaska Legislature. Seafood economist Andy Wink with the McDowell Group in Juneau points out that with commercial catches on the order of 5 to 6 billion pounds per year, even adding or losing one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly a million dollars for the state and local governments each. The industry also pays other taxes and fees, which cover management, marketing, hatcheries and other costs. Wink said Alaska’s seafood industry accounts for the vast majority of hatchery funding, allowing both sport and commercial fishermen the benefit of more salmon. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bay haul beats forecast; Alaska fish get clean bill of health

With salmon fisheries going on every summer all across Alaska, you might wonder why so much attention is focused on Bristol Bay. The answer can be summed up in two words: sockeye salmon. Bristol Bay is home to the largest red salmon runs in the world and sockeye is Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery by far. In most years, well over one-third of Alaska’s total earnings from salmon fishing stem from Bristol Bay. Whereas other fishing regions like Copper River, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Southeast and the Alaska Peninsula might get sockeye catches ranging from 1 million to 5 million fish, Bristol Bay’s harvests can reach into the 20 million to 40 million range. “The Bay” also has the most salmon fishermen with more than 2,800 active permit holders. Fishermen were expecting to catch about 17 million reds at Bristol Bay this summer, but it could blow past that by the time you read this. Catches already were topping 2 million per day and by July 4, the harvest was at 14 million — with another surge of sockeyes on the way. Salmon trackers already were predicting that the run of sockeyes homing in to Bristol Bay could top 38 million, 45 percent over the preseason forecast. Alaska’s statewide sockeye catch this summer is pegged at nearly 34 million, a 14 percent increase over 2013. The total salmon catch this year is projected at 133 million fish, down 47 percent from last year’s record haul. (Summed up in two words: pink salmon.)  Independence Day thought Commercial fishermen are the world’s only remaining hunter/gatherers for a wild capture resource. Alaska fish tests clean Ramped up testing this summer shows Alaska fish is free of all signs of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown after Japan’s horrific earthquake/tsunami three years ago. “The results of the testing of the Alaska fish that were just collected look very good. There is no detection of any radiation that would have originated from Fukushima. That was very good news,” state veterinarian Bob Gerlach announced last week. From the beginning, state and federal agencies have partnered to test and track Alaska seafood for radiation. Concerns over contaminants that showed up recently in salmon and tuna caught off the Pacific coast prompted them to do more Alaska-specific testing prior to salmon season. “The state has worked with the state Department of Health and DEC to develop a sampling plan to select certain species of fish from the Aleutian islands and Bristol bay, Gulf of Alaska and Southeast and we will be collecting additional samples through the summer from other species of fish to try and get background information. But at this point we haven’t been able to detect anything at all — all the samples have come up as ‘non-detects,’” Gerlach told KDLG. Oceanographers have predicted that radiation from Fukushima was expected to hit Alaska waters this year. “Because fish come in at different time periods, we were collecting as early as possible when the salmon fishery started, and will continue to the end of the season,” he added. Scallops status quo There’s been no stampede to Alaska’s scallop beds that is newly opened to all comers. The fishery has been managed under a limited entry system for years, but was changed to “open access” starting July 1. “To date we haven’t had anyone register or obtain an observer to fish in that fishery, so we anticipate the same four vessels that have historically fished the last four to five years to be the only vessels that will fish during this scallop season,” said Mark Stichert, fishery manager at ADFG in Kodiak. Weathervane scallop beds dot Alaska’s waters from one end to the other, yielding a stable total harvest each year of around 400,000 pounds of shucked meats. “Historically, the two largest beds are Yakutat and here in Kodiak,” Stichert said. “Some fishing has occurred inside Prince William Sound and up in Cook Inlet, but those two areas are both closed this season due to low abundance. We have scallop fishing that occurs in the Alaska Peninsula, a small fishery in Dutch Harbor, and a fairly sizeable harvest in the Bering Sea.” Managers also are re-opening an old scallop bed along the Alaska Peninsula that has been closed for five years to allow the stocks to regenerate. Fishermen’s prices for scallops can be at or above $10 a pound, making the fishery worth $4 million at the Alaska docks. Comments wanted Federal fishery managers want comments on plans to relax Steller sea lion protections and allow more fishing for cod and Atka mackerel along the western Aleutian Islands. It could lead to those fisheries being reopened in January after a five-year closure. Deadline to comment is August 15. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

More than just sockeye salmon fisheries underway around state

Salmon takes center stage in Alaska every summer, but many more fisheries also are going on all across the state. The world’s biggest sockeye salmon run is expected to surge into Bristol Bay any day, where a catch of about 17 million reds is projected. Elsewhere, the annual summer troll fishery in Southeast Alaska kicks off on July first with a target of just over 166,000 chinook salmon. Lots of crab fisheries are underway each summer — dungeness fishing began on June 15 in Southeast where a harvest of 2.25 million pounds is expected. The region’s golden king crab fishery will close on July 10, with a catch of about 234,000 pounds. The 6 million-pound golden king crab fishery continues way out along the Aleutians. Norton Sound’s red king crab fishery started on June 26 with a harvest set at 382,000 pounds, down 23 percent. Trawlers are targeting pollock and cod in the Bering Sea, and the Gulf of Alaska jig fleet continues to make a dent in that 7 million-pound quota. Halibut longliners had taken 53 percent of their 16 million pound catch limit, with just 7 million pounds to go. For sablefish, 62 percent of the nearly 24 million-pound quota has been landed with nine million pounds remaining. Both of those fisheries end in November. A lingcod fishery opens in Prince William Sound on July 1 with a catch set at about 33,000 pounds. Alaska’s statewide scallop fishery, which has a combined limit of 407,000 pounds of shucked meats, also opens July 1. In other fish news — Simon Kinneen of Nome has been named to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He replaces outgoing Eric Olson. Also reappointed is John Henderschedt for a Washington seat. Both terms are for three years.  United Fishermen of Alaska, the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group, has endorsed two congressional candidates.  “We have put our support behind Sen. Mark Begich for another term in the U.S. Senate, and we have also voted to endorse Don Young for another go-around at the U.S. House of Representatives,” said UFA executive director Julianne Curry.  UFA President, Jerry McCune also has thrown his hat in the ring as a Democratic contender for Alaska’s state house, representing District 32. Maritime workers wanted Alaska’s coastal economies depend on the seafood industry, and the entire state relies on ships to get goods from one place to another. Getting more Alaskans into maritime trades is the goal of a new workforce development plan released by the state Department of Labor. It is the result of two years of collaboration by numerous industry sectors, five state agencies and university educators. For the first time the plan breaks down maritime jobs into a unique, related workforce and identifies 23 different occupation types ranging from fishing to research to shipbuilding and repairs. “One thing the plan really points out is how reliant our economy is on the maritime industry. Not only do we have a huge economic sector with seafood harvesting and processing — but also everything in maritime and marine trades. And then all the scientific work that goes on to support it. It is a real network of economic activity,” said Wanetta Ayers, director of business partnerships at the Department of Workforce Development. Right now, she said, there are not enough skilled workers to meet demand. “One of the occupations identified in the plan is machinist,” Ayers said. “There is increased automation and complexity with a lot of our seafood plants, and we need young people with those kinds of skills so circuit writers from the Lower 48 aren’t being called to come up and keep our plants working. We need to look beyond the frontline jobs, which may make up the largest count in terms of workers but there are good well-paying jobs in maritime and I want to see Alaskans working in those occupations. “One of the main areas of focus is helping Alaskans identify what those good, career living wage opportunities are in the maritime industry and there are lots of them. Mostly it is a factor of identifying what the right pathways are to get into some of these long term legacy jobs in the maritime industry and will provide for a livelihood that can take you through your entire life.” She added: “I can tell you in working with this industry advisory committee, what’s motivated them throughout this entire process is to really showcase what the opportunities are and make sure there are clear pathways for people to movie into those great jobs.” A new maritime workforce webpage is already online at the Department of Labor’s Workforce Development site. www.labor.alaska.gov/maritimeplan/ State publishes Chinook News Chinook News is keeping Alaskans updated as the state seeks clues about why numbers of the king of all salmon are on the decline. “Right now we are in the thick of our Chinook Salmon Research Initiative which is a $30 million, five-year effort, and we want to make sure that we share what we know and what we hope to learn with Alaskans and get the public fully engaged in the process,” said Candice Bressler, communications coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  As part of the effort, salmon scientists are studying chinook stocks from 12 main rivers from Southeast to the Yukon.  “For this first newspaper edition we wanted to introduce the major issues surrounding chinook salmon in Alaska,” Bressler added. “We wanted to give folks an overview of what we are doing to understand the stocks, but also what we are doing to sustainably manage and rebuild chinook in Alaska. The colorful Chinook News is loaded with much more than science. “You’ve got articles about the role of research and the impact of bycatch, for example, written by some of our top scientists and they are very insightful. But we’ve also included an awesome article called ‘A century of salmon’ about the chinook tradition written by Ken Marsh,” she said. Another article highlights how salmon find their way in the deep blue maze of ocean, and there is a fun section on chinook fast facts. “Did you know the largest sport caught Chinook was 97 pounds? What a whopper!” Bressler said. Chinook News is available now at any ADFG office and online at www.adfg.alaska.gov/ Bressler said the public is encouraged to email the department questions or comments about chinook at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Not much talk about fish on candidate sites

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: the seafood industry is Alaska’s largest private employer, putting more people to work than mining, oil/gas, timber and tourism combined. The annual revenue the seafood sector contributes to state coffers is second only to Big Oil. So where does the seafood industry rank among the major candidates running for Alaska governor and the U.S. Senate? Here’s what a thorough look at each of their campaign websites reveals, starting with the race for governor (all in alphabetical order). Byron Mallott (Democratic candidate) only mentions fishing commercially in Southeast in the “About Byron” section. byronmallot.com Gov. Sean Parnell (Republican, incumbent) only mentions fishing in the “Issues/Standing Against Federal Overreach” section, saying he “fought off the federal government’s attempt to implement “ocean zoning — known as marine spatial planning,” and  “To protect the livelihoods of our fishing fleet in Southeast, the State of Alaska petitioned to de-list the Eastern stock of Steller sea lions that had been protected by the Endangered Species Act.” An article about “Wal-Mart to keep buying Alaska salmon” appears in the Blog section. parnell2014.com Bill Walker (Independent candidate) has a complete section listed under “Issues/Fish Management” saying: “Having spent 30 years in Prince William Sound, I am familiar with the importance fisheries play in all aspects of the economy…. Furthermore, I will protect, maintain and improve the fish, game and aquatic plant resources of the State, and manage their use and development for the well-being of the people of the State, consistent with high-sustained yield principles.” walkerforalaska.com Candidates running for U.S. Senate need to be aware that nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s seafood harvests fall under federal jurisdiction. Sen. Mark Begich (Democrat, incumbent) lists fishing resources under the “Priorities/Economy and Jobs” section saying: “In Alaska, fishing isn’t a hobby or a sporting event. More than 76,000 jobs in our state are directly or indirectly linked to the fishing industry. Our fisheries bring in $5 billion to our state’s economy. For us, fishing is a way of life.” Begich also mentions his ongoing fight against genetically modified salmon called Frankenfish. markbegich.com. Joe Miller (Republican candidate) has no mention of fisheries on his site. joemiller.us Dan Sullivan (Republican candidate) posts a picture of a fishing boat in the “Issues/Jobs and the Economy” section but does not mention anything about fishing or the industry. Under “Improving Lives & Opportunities in Rural Alaska” Sullivan says he “continues the time-honored activities of his wife Julie’s family at their fish camp on the Yukon River.” There is no mention of fish in his “Natural Resources” section. sullivan2014.com Mead Treadwell (Republican candidate) lists “Fishing industry” in the “Issues” section and says “Alaska’s fishing industry supports thousands of jobs and produces billions for our economy.” treadwellalaska.com For candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Forrest Dunbar (Democratic candidate) mentions two summers fishing commercially at Cordova. forrestforalaska.com Rep. Don Young (Republican, incumbent) does not appear to have a 2014 campaign web site. alaskansfordonyoung.com I fish, I vote! Seafood Harvesters of America, or SHA, is a newly-launched group that has garnered coast to coast representation in a united voice for “accountable and thriving fisheries.” “There is no national organization that only represents U.S. fishermen here in D.C.,” said Brett Veerhusen, a lifelong Alaskan who serves as executive director for the group. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu here. So it is important that we as fishermen lend our voices in a united way on key federal issues affecting fishermen.” The SHA already has 14 member groups who claim their operant word is “accountability” by fishermen, scientists, policy makers and other users of the oceans.    “The ocean is bipartisan and the most important thing as fishermen is to pass down this tradition for generations. Without the fish, nothing else matters,” Veerhusen said in a phone interview. The group is closely watching the Magnuson-Stevens Act (law that govern U.S. federal fisheries) as it undergoes reauthorization this year in Congress. “We believe the act is something to be proud of,” he said. “What is working are decisions based on sound science. That is extremely important to this group. We are advocating for better stock assessments and more funding to be gathering the best science so we can have strict accountability measures and strict annual catch limits.” Veerhusen said the harvester group plans to work with the Coast Guard on new compliance requirements that in some cases will increase costs by 30 to 50 percent.  “That’s really affecting the business men and women who are building new boats or doing a lot of boat work. We want to make sure we are coming up with a more reasonable approach that involves the fishing industry on those requirements,” he explained. Likewise, the group is tracking a discharge moratorium that is set to expire in mid-December. “If that moratorium is not extended by the EPA, vessels in Alaska and nationwide will need to get an incidental discharge permit for deck wash. It’s already been extended for recreational vessels, but not for commercial vessels. We want to make sure there is an even playing field,” Veerhusen said. He added that ocean acidification also “is very much on the radar screen.” The seafood harvesters group has been several years in the making, and Veerhusen said response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”  “A lot of people said it’s about damn time that we start coordinating and collaborating with each other,” he said. “As fishermen we believe it is our patriotic duty to be harvesting America’s fishery resources sustainably for the public to enjoy.” Stay stable Fishing boats rock and roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway, and heave. A new iPhone app helps skippers respond to the movements as they navigate rough seas in tough weather. It is called SCraMP — for Small Craft Motion Program, and it has a variety of tools for boat operators. “There is a view that gives them the accelerations they’ve seen so they can have a sense of how bad they are being beat up. There is a screen that will tell them how severe their roll motions have been, and a screen that gives them a choice of three different warning metrics on the heave, roll and fishermen can plug in numbers they feel comfortable with,” said Leigh McCue, a professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering who created the app.  She said stability indicators have been talked about for years, but prototypes were too bulky or expensive. After getting a smart phone she realized it had all the computing power that was needed, and input from fishermen helped hone the app to their needs. “Tracking roll periods came about from a conversation with a fisherman who said that when he is sleeping in his bunk and wakes up, he’ll count off a roll period or two to make sure things seem right to him. I figured it’s easy enough to have that being calculated so he can look at a screen that shows what the roll periods have been for the time he was asleep, and see if there is anything trending that he doesn’t like,” McCue said.

Farmed salmon, big Fraser River run impacting 2014 prices

Salmon prices at wholesale show marked seasonal variations for both wild and farmed fish. It’s a pattern that has been tracked for decades by Urner Barry, the nation’s oldest commodity market watcher in business since 1895. The prices tend to decline through June, July, August and September and they begin rising again from November through the following April or May. Two things drive the well-established pattern, said market expert John Sackton, who publishes Seafood.com, an Urner-Barry partner.  “There’s a growth cycle for farmed salmon when they eat more and grow faster at certain times of the year, and so the harvests, particularly those that come into the U.S. market from Chile for example, really peak in June, July and August, which are our summer months and the winter months in Chile,” Sackton explained. “Then there is the opening of the wild salmon season each summer and all of a sudden you get a lot more diversity and availability of Alaskan salmon.” Sackton said buyers of both wild sockeyes and farmed salmon are starting to push back a bit on high prices. That’s likely reflected in the $3.50 advances for the first reds at Copper River in mid-May, which was down 50 cents from last year’s starting price. A big wild card for North American salmon this summer is the projected (an upper end of) 72 million sockeye return at British Columbia’s Fraser River. Sackton said Japanese buyers, who have been somewhat priced out of the sockeye market in recent years because there has been so much demand elsewhere and a drop in the yen has made it harder for them to buy, are hoping that a big run will open up more opportunities for them. Even though they’ve been buying less, Japan is still an important part of a three-legged stool. “You’ve got your U.S. fresh/frozen market, the Japanese market and the European customers. If the Japanese part of that equation is a bit cautious because they are hoping to see some big price break at Fraser, they will be slow to commit to contracts for the pack earlier in the year and that can put price pressure on everybody,” Sackton said. Timing also will come into play — the Fraser River run typically arrives in August, several weeks after the big sockeye haul at Bristol Bay. “So what this is going to mean this year, in my opinion, is that there will be more uncertainty about what the final price is because you’ve got a run coming in later,” he added. “I don’t know how it will affect the fishing price except that tends to follow where people expect the markets to go.” Fish Watch The first week of June saw salmon fisheries opening all across the state and the streak of warm weather had fish showing up a bit earlier than usual. Bristol Bay’s fishing season officially opened on June 2 and fishermen and processors are hurriedly gearing up in anticipation of an early sockeye run. No one wants a repeat of last year when the reds arrived eight days sooner than expected and caught many off guard. South Peninsula salmon fisheries are underway, and Kodiak’s season kicked off a bit earlier on June 5 and Yakutat on June 3. Trollers at Southeast have been out on the water for spring kings since May 1 and seiners will begin fishing throughout the region on June 15.  Alaska’s total salmon harvest this season is projected at about 133 million fish, down 47 percent from last year’s record catch of 283 million fish. That’s due to an off year for pink salmon – this summer’s catch of 75 million is a 67 percent decrease from last summer’s record take of 226 million humpies. The breakdown for other catches call for a 14 percent bump up in sockeyes to nearly 34 million; 4.4 million coho salmon, and nearly 20 million chums. A total catch of 79,000 Chinook salmon is projected in areas outside of Southeast and Bristol Bay. You can track Alaska salmon catches by region and species on a daily basis with Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “Blue Sheet.” Find it under “Commercial Fisheries/Salmon/Harvest.” A weekly in-season summary also charts the progression of all commercial salmon harvests and compares them with the five-year averages. As always, lots of other fisheries are underway besides salmon — the summer pollock season opens in the Bering Sea on June 10; likewise, cod reopens for hook and line catcher processors. Halibut longliners have landed 45 percent of their 16 million-pound catch limit with the ports of Homer, Seward and Kodiak getting almost equal shares of landings so far. For sablefish, 54 percent was taken out of a nearly 24 million pound quota, with most deliveries going to Seward. Jig fishermen around Kodiak were still tapping away at their 7.3 million-pound cod quota. In Southeast, the Dungeness crab season opens June 15 — managers will use catch and effort information from the first week of fishing to predict the total season harvest, which usually is between two to three million pounds. At Norton Sound a herring bait fishery is underway.  Fascinating ugly fish One of Alaska’s ugliest and most abundant fish is set to be tracked for the first time by federal managers — the giant grenadier. Also called rat tails, there are several species of the deep dwellers and little is known about their life history. Trawl surveys by NOAA Fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska have shown that grenadiers are the most abundant fish, in terms of weight, in depths from 600 to 3,000 feet and have been caught deeper than 6,000 feet. The fish are most commonly taken as bycatch in the sablefish longline and Greenland turbot fisheries. Sketchy catch data estimate that 16,000 metric tons (35.2 million pounds) of grenadiers are discarded which annually with 100 percent mortality due to the pressure difference experienced by the fish when they are brought to the surface. “There really is not a lot known on their niche in the ecosystem, but just the fact that they are so abundant, they likely have a large impact on other species on the slope,” said Cara Rodgveller, a biologist at the Auke Bay Laboratory in Juneau. “They are most likely feeding off both fish and invertebrates, and also as a prey species for other fish.” There have been attempts to develop a fishery for giant grenadier, but because of their jelly-like flesh quality, high water content and low fat levels, there has been little interest in world markets; likewise, endeavors to develop treatment processes to make the fish palatable have been unsuccessful.   Federal fishery managers in February included grenadiers in their oversight as an “ecosystem component” in Alaska waters. That means they will be tracked for overfishing officially, and their retained catch is required to be reported, Rodgveller said. And while there is no directed fishery for the grenadiers, which can reach lengths topping six feet, genetic research is continuing to learn more about the fish. In aging studies, scientists discovered that the otoliths (ear bones) were variable in shape, unheard of within a species. “Giant grenadiers have the potential to actually be more than one species,” Rodgveller said. “They have different otolith shapes that are dramatically different, and haven’t been seen in any other fish species.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

GM salmon labeling amendment moves ahead

If genetically modified salmon gets a green light by the federal government, it will be labeled as such if U.S. senators on both sides of the aisle have their way. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week passed the bipartisan Murkowski-Begich amendment requiring that consumers be advised of what they are buying. During testimony, Sen. Lisa Murkowski questioned if the so-called Frankenfish can even be called a real salmon. “This takes a transgenic Atlantic salmon egg, which has genes from an ocean pout that is somewhat akin to an eel, and it combines with the genes of a Chinook salmon. I have questioned time and time again, why we would want to be messing with Mother Nature like this,” Murkowski said. “We are trying to invent a species that would grow quicker to out-compete our wild stocks. This experiment puts at risk the health of our fisheries not only in Alaska, but throughout the Pacific Northwest.” “We’re not talking about GM corn or something else that is grown. We are talking about a species that moves, migrates, and breeds,” Murkowski said. “This is an experiment that if it went wrong could be devastating to the wild, healthy stocks that our farmers of the sea depend upon.” The “AquaAdvantage” Frankenfish, created by a company called AquaBounty, based in the U.S. and Panama, has been vying for Food and Drug Administration approval for two decades. The company has spent nearly $80 million on what would be the first genetically engineered animal ever to be approved for human consumption. Because the gene tweaking is considered a “veterinary procedure,” the fish will not be required to use any labeling identifying it as a man-made product. Murkowski pointed out that more than 1.5 million people have written in opposition to FDA approval and 65 supermarkets (including Safeway, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target) have pledged not to carry it. Salmon farmers also are distancing themselves from Frankenfish; both the International Salmon Farmers Association and the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance have issued statements in opposition to GM salmon. AquaBounty CEO Ronald Stotish called critics of the fish “bullies” and “terrorists” in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article last week. Murkowski said, “We are not doing anything more than telling the FDA if you move forward with a wrongheaded decision to allow for the first time ever this genetically engineered salmon for human consumption, at a bare minimum you’ve got to stick a label on it that says so.” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., agreed. “Whether we look at this from the viewpoint of a citizen’s right to know what they’re buying, or we look at it from the viewpoint of ensuring a healthy industry that’s so important to our states, this amendment is absolutely 100 percent right on,” Merkley said. “And if you buy salmon, you should buy 100 percent salmon.” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland and chair of the Appropriations Committee, added: “If something is a GMO food, we ought to know what it is. I don’t want to eat a Dolly-burger and I don’t want to eat a Frankenfish.” A voice vote on the Murkowski-Begich amendment passed with only one dissenter. It now goes to the Senate floor as part of the agriculture spending bill. Words matter Whoever represents Alaska in Congress needs to be seafood savvy, as nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s total harvests fall under federal jurisdiction, meaning in waters from three to 200 miles offshore. That’s a lot of poundage hauled aboard, but when it comes to fish delivered to the docks, state waters win the day. And the difference between “volume” and “landings” is often confused. “You can imagine the number of deliveries, for example, that happen in Bristol Bay in the month of July — every setnetter and every drift gillnetter who is pitching off fish, that’s a delivery, a landing. And there are hundreds of those happening every day. But you contrast that with the volume or poundage of fish harvested, that’s another thing,” explained Kurt Iverson, the Research and Planning project leader at the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. Likewise, there is an important distinction between fishery poundage and values. Some are high volume with relatively lower value on a per pound basis, and vice versa.  “A good example of a fishery that has very high value but relatively low volume is sablefish. Compare that to other fisheries and the total poundage harvested may not measure up, but the value is very high,” Iverson said. Furthermore, when people talk about the overall value of Alaska’s fisheries, they use the ex-vessel, or dockside numbers. But that represents only 40 percent of what it is really worth — it’s the first wholesale value that gives a more accurate number after the first fish sales are made by seafood processors. Iverson said fisheries terms can easily be misconstrued and it is important to make distinctions. “Not only for someone who is expressing it, but for a reader. Are you considering a value or poundage or a harvest, a delivery or something else?” he said. “We all have a responsibility to be clear about what we’re talking about, and our audiences should be aware that there are differences.” Shell shocks The shells of crabs, shrimp, lobsters and other crustaceans are being turned into bio-plastics for food packaging and more. The shells contain a compound called chitin, which is also found in insects and fungi, and it is one of the most abundant biodegradable materials in the world. Estimates say more than 25 billion tons of chitin from seafood is disposed of each year. Bankrolled by funds from their government, scientists at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research are turning chitin into so called “active” packaging aimed at reducing plastics made from petro-chemicals. The products can range from hard bio-plastics to thin films that cover food products. The food sector alone, including beverages, accounts for nearly two-thirds of global packaging from non-biodegradable plastics. Chitin has a rich research history for use in agriculture, medicine and other fields. As a seed treatment added to soil, it works as a bio-pesticide, increases blooms in plants and extends the life of cut flowers and Christmas trees. The U.S. Forest Service has conducted research on chitin to control pathogens in pine trees and increase resin pitch outflow that naturally resists pine beetle infestation. Chitin also can be used in water filtration, as it causes fine sediment particles to bind together. Tests show that chitin combined with sand filtration removes up to 99 percent of turbidity in water. Chitin’s hemostatic properties cause blood to clot rapidly and it is used in bandages by the U.S. and United Kingdom militaries. Scientists also have recently developed a polyurethane coating that heals its own scratches. When added to traditional coatings to protect paint on cars, for example, the chitin reacts chemically to ultra violet light and smoothes scratches in less than one hour.   Crossing the bar Alaska lost one of its finest fishery writers with the untimely death last week of Bob Tkacz. Bob covered seafood industry issues in Juneau for 33 years and published the weekly Laws for the Sea during the legislative sessions. He was well known (and feared) for asking tough questions, having the facts at his fingertips, and tenaciously demanding answers. As one politician put it: “Bob was someone you wanted covering the other guy’s press conference.” Bob was a friend and mentor for 25 years and saying he will be missed is an understatement. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Plenty of pink salmon in stock from 2013; price info hard to get

Salmon season is just getting underway, but seafood companies are still selling last summer’s record catch of 226 million pink salmon — and it has prompted lots of creative thinking. “The challenge is to market all this fish and still maintain the value,” said Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, the state’s marketing arm. “It wouldn’t be any problem for the producers just to flood the market, and then we would see a tremendous downward pressure in years to come. More so, we see this as a great opportunity to introduce more people to wild Alaska salmon at a price they can afford,” Fick added. ASMI has put forward an additional $1.5 million to promote pink salmon, both at home and overseas. And while Alaska has been shifting away from lower valued canned pinks — 72 percent was canned a decade ago, compared to less than half in 2012 — now it’s looking “back to the future” with a smaller sized can. “We’ve been really successful in marketing pink salmon which has greatly increased the value over the past 10 years. The idea is that with a smaller can size, and the market will tell us what that is, we can then hit a price point to be competitive with other protein options,” Fick explained. The smaller size cans also will let processors use the expanded product development tax, passed this year by the Alaska legislature, to upgrade canning lines, many of which are from the 1950s. Alaska marketers also are targeting endurance athletes with magazine ads in Runner’s World, Bicycling and Competitor, Triathlete and others, as well as onsite promotions. “We’re going to some rock and roll marathons, which is a series of road races with routes lined with live bands and cheerleaders, and we’re working with people like Kikkan Randall who are pressed for time and want a lean protein that is very nutritious. Canned salmon certainly fits that bill,” Fick said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also announced in January that it would buy $20 million in canned pinks for food assistance programs. Meanwhile, the huge pink pack is moving to market, said Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. “Prices haven’t crashed or anything and things are selling at an OK rate. Business looks good, so there’s absolutely no reason to panic,” Sunderland said. State figures show a tally of 2.7 million cases of canned pinks (talls); and 1.7 million cases of halves produced from the 2013 catch. That compares to 1.3 million and 55,000 cases, respectively, from 2012. The market should see some relief from a much smaller pink run this summer — the Alaska forecast calls for 75 million fish, a 67 percent decrease from last year’s humpy haul. Greenland calling A new television pilot featuring Alaska fishermen will take them halfway across the world to the iceberg filled waters of Greenland. A recent classified ad in the Kodiak Daily Mirror called for the best and bravest halibut longliners, stating “Crybabies need not apply.” “We are looking for Alaska halibut fisherman that have braved the waters of Alaska and are looking for the next great challenge,” said David Casey, executive producer at Los Angeles-based Moxie Pictures. “The Greenlandic and Atlantic halibut of Greenland are much larger, and much harder to catch. You have to get right up next to the glaciers to catch them. So it is a completely different environment and we want to see if the Alaska fishermen can hack it.” Casey said in a phone interview that only three of the toughest men will be accepted for what he described as a very different halibut fishery that is “very abundant but hard to get to.” “They longline down with two hundred hooks into the deepest fjord fishing waters in the world, and the fishery changes with the season,” he said. “In the winter they use Greenlandic sled dogs to sled out into the inland fjords where ice extends out over the deep waters where the biggest halibut are. For the summer they go out on to the fishing waters on very small 5-meter boats; they are basically glorified bathtubs. It’s the same process, but they have to get up near the largest icebergs in the world. You are in open ocean, but what you are fighting is not necessarily the waves but the melting ice around you.” Greenland’s halibut quota this year is 55 million pounds, and fishermen average $7 per pound. The Greenland halibut is marketed in Europe; any sold in the U.S. is known as Greenland turbot. “It is a completely different fishing environment,” Casey said. “I understand that halibut is ebbing and flowing commercially in Alaska, and I know those changes are creating new opportunities elsewhere.” Filming of the pilot will start this summer. For more information contact Christian Skovly at [email protected] Price check Call salmon buyers around the state for fish prices and you’ll get widely different responses — if any at all. Prices paid to Alaska salmon fishermen depend on the region, the types of fishing gear and markets. Prices also reflect bonuses for iced fish, dock deliveries and other agreements between a buyer and seller. But finding any information during the fishing season is a challenge. “You are kind of in the dark,” said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the state Commercial Fisheries division. “You have to call around and talk to fishermen; sometimes our biologists know what the prices are because sometimes there are prices on fish tickets, but a lot of times there are not. And the prices are also in flux. Until the fish are actually sold at the wholesale level, you really don’t know what the price is going to be. So there’s a lot of uncertainty, and just a lack of information. Bruce added that in-season price information also may not be very accurate “even if it’s showing up someplace.” “That’s one of the reasons some staff don’t like to deal with it because they know it’s not accurate, and there is no way they can actually arrive at an accurate figure. So they don’t want to be putting out information that they don’t feel they can be certain about, so they don’t do it. Besides, tracking salmon prices is not an agency priority. “There are no critical decisions being made by the agency in which in season fish prices are an important piece of the information,” he said. Still, he agreed not being able to pencil in a bottom line makes it tough to run a fishing business. “I know there are many fishermen who don’t know what they are going to get paid who are frustrated by that,” Bruce said, “but there is nothing that we can do as the Department of Fish and Game to alleviate that frustration.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

First Copper River salmon reach state, national markets

Trollers in Southeast Alaska provide fresh king salmon nearly year round, but the runs of reds and kings to the Copper River mark the “official start” of Alaska’s salmon season. On May 15 the fleet of more than 570 fishermen set out their nets on a beautiful day for the first 12-hour opener amidst the usual hype for the first fish. “We’ve got a lot of people riding around in the sky checking out the conditions, and a lot of people are getting ready to move the fish to other places for first fish celebrations,” said Kim Ryals, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. Out on the fishing grounds, it was a “very slow day, to say the least,” according to veteran high liner Bill Webber of Cordova.  “Even with the warmer environmental conditions we had this spring, I think we are in front of the run,” Webber said. “I just hope we stay on the return trend we have been enjoying in recent years. Well, it is the first period and we have to get a few more to see the trend for this year.” Prices for the first fish dipped a bit — Copper River Seafoods posted advance sockeye prices at $3.50 and $6 for kings; that compares to $4 and $6 to $7, respectively, for last year’s opener. In what has become a traditional rite of spring, Alaska Airlines whisked away the first 24,000 pounds of the famous fish to Seattle where pilots traversed a red carpet to hand deliver a 48-pound king salmon to three chefs for a cook-off at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. At least five other jets carried fresh fish from Cordova to eager buyers throughout the U.S., as well as to Anchorage.  “This year, along with sending salmon to high end markets in Seattle and the Lower 48, the first fish also will be enjoyed closer to home,” said Kim Ryals.  Several events are planned in Anchorage, she said, and fishermen also donated salmon to a shelter called Clare House. “It is for women and children and pregnant women over 18,” Ryals said. “We feel like we have so much to be thankful for here in Cordova with our rich natural resources that we want to share some of these things with the people here in our own state.” A special locator app tells where Copper River salmon is being sold, and customers also can upload information. www.copperriversalmon.org. The Copper River forecast calls for a catch of 1.8 million sockeyes and 33,000 kings this summer.  Seeing red Red salmon from the Copper River are a unique brand that fetches an average premium of nearly $2 per pound above all other sockeye salmon in U.S. grocery stores. The average price of “unbranded” sockeye was $10.23 per pound during the past year, according to a market analysis by the Juneau-based McDowell Group. The report was done for Bristol Bay fishermen, but it covers all regions and markets. Sockeyes are by far Alaska’s most valuable salmon, typically worth about two-thirds of the total statewide salmon haul. But in terms of global supply, wild sockeye are rare creatures — they account for about 5 percent of all wild and farmed production, and represent just 15 percent of the world’s wild salmon harvest. Alaska typically accounts for 70 percent or more of global sockeye production, with nearly half of that coming from Bristol Bay. The U.S. is the single largest market, purchasing nearly 44 percent by value in 2012. Japan and the U.K. are next, followed by Canada. The McDowell report said it will be increasingly important to defend the Alaska sockeye brand from “craft” farmed salmon producers. Niche producers, such as Verlasso and Skuna Bay have a big advantage because they can offer fresh salmon on a year-round basis. The high-end fish farmers also message their salmon as being sustainable, environmentally friendly and “harmoniously raised.” Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch this year is projected at nearly 34 million fish, five million more than last year. Average statewide price last year was $1.60, an increase of 30 cents from 2012. Going grey As older fishermen retire from the business, fewer young people are recruiting in. The average age of Alaska permit holders is 47 — and there are twice as many permit holders aged 45 to 60 as there are between 30 and 44.  The issue — dubbed the Graying of the Fleet — has been discussed for years. Now an ambitious project is underway to find ways to overcome the obstacles facing young recruits. Armed with a $335,000 grant from the North Pacific Research Board, a multi-year project is underway to focus on young fishermen in the Bristol Bay and Kodiak regions. “We are really going to be diving into some of the factors that allow young people to be successful and what motivates them to stay in the business, and what are some of the challenges and solutions to make it easier for young people to live, work and be successful as fishing business owners,” said Kelly Harrell, director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council that has teamed with Alaska Sea Grant for the project. The “Graying of the Fleet” project will include interviews with permit holders, processors and other stakeholders in an attempt to come up recommendations. It will be completed in August 2016. Weed power! “When the tide is out, the table is set” is an Alaska Native saying. Now scientists at North Carolina State University have found that seaweeds commonly found in waters and beaches near Sitka are packed with compounds that can protect against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The researchers said there is nothing on grocery shelves that can compare to the levels of antioxidants and other healthy compounds seen in Alaska seaweeds, which have to be really tough to withstand strong tides and temperatures. That results in “more bang for your buck,” and the Alaska seaweeds produce much stronger chemical defenses than commercially grown fruits and vegetables. In a presentation at a biology conference in San Diego last week, lead seaweed scientist Joshua Kellogg showed how the high levels of “bioactive phytochemicals” in Alaska seaweeds appear to combat the chronic inflammation that causes obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Find more information in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Commercial sector dwarfs sport impact; gear contest underway

The debate over which sector – commercial or recreational fishing — provides the bigger economic punch can finally be put to rest. The annual “Fisheries Economics of the United States” report by the Department of Commerce shows once and for all that in terms of values, jobs, sales and incomes, the marine commercial sector far outscores saltwater recreational fishing. A breakdown of the extensive report by market analyst John Sackton shows that in 2012, commercial fishing had $140 billion in sales compared to $58 billion for sport fishing. And for the value contributed to the national economy, commercial fishing added nearly $60 billion, double the recreational sector. In terms of jobs, the seafood industry employed 1.27 million people compared to 381,000 for sports anglers. The most striking difference, Sackton said, is in where those people are employed. For sport fishing it was building boats and engines, representing 82 percent of both employment and sales and it is very regionally concentrated. The NOAA report added that less than 20 percent of the jobs in the sport industry come from guides, boat operators, tackle shops and various rentals. For the commercial fishing industry, the value and jobs created are spread throughout the entire country; for the recreational sector, they are concentrated in a few states and industries. For example, Florida accounted for 30 percent of all U.S. recreational fishing jobs; add in the Gulf States and North Carolina and the number jumps to nearly half of the national total. The economic benefits of the commercial seafood sector also penetrate all parts of the U.S. and the economy. Unlike its sport counterparts, a fisherman in Alaska is in fact supporting dozens of other U.S. jobs in retail, wholesale, distribution and import sectors. In short, the facts negate the argument that recreational fishing has a greater or more direct economic impact than the commercial fishery. The economics report also breaks down information by region. In terms of prices, it shows that of 10 key U.S. species, sea scallops, Pacific halibut and sablefish received the highest ex-vessel (dock) prices in 2012 at $9.83, $4.48 and $3.42 per pound, respectively. Menhaden and pollock had the lowest ex-vessel prices in 2012 at seven cents per pound and 12 cents per pound per pound.  However, landings of both species were the largest in the U.S. at 1.77 billion pounds of menhaden and 2.87 billion pounds of pollock. Find a link to the fisheries economics report at www.alaskafishradio.com. Get your gear on The call is out for entries in the international Smart Gear competition! The contest, which was started in 2005 by the World Wildlife Fund, rewards new gear ideas that help fishermen retain target catches while letting marine mammals, turtles, birds or small fish swim away. This year’s competition offers the largest prize pool ever, said program director Michael Osmond in a phone interview. “There is a $30,000 grand prize; two $10,000 runners up prizes, and we also have two $7,500 what we call special bycatch prizes. One of them is a tuna bycatch reduction prize, and the other is a marine mammal bycatch reduction prize,” he said. The competition goes well beyond the cash prizes, he added. “The second step is to get those ideas to the stage where they can actually be out there being used by industry, and doing the job they were designed to do,” he said. WWF and its partners continue working with the gear innovators and to date almost 50 percent of the winning ideas from the competition are now out on the water. That includes the 2011 winners — from Japan, a double weight branchline that prevents seabird bycatch; from Florida, a Seaqualizer that lets fish with air bladders be safely returned to deep water, and from California — simple LED lights or glow sticks that keeps turtles away from gillnets. Osmond said 60 percent to 70 percent of the gear entries come from fishermen, as do the majority of winning ideas. The 2011 competition attracted 74 entries from a record 31 countries. Osmond said Alaska is always in the mix with three or four entries. “We haven’t yet had a winning idea that’s come from Alaska,” he said, “but this year is just as good a chance as any.” Deadline to enter the Smart Gear contest is Aug. 31. For more information go to www.smartgear.org. Pollock opp flop It’s the peak time of year for jig fishing for cod and 60 boats have landed over 1.5 million pounds so far out of a nearly 6 million-pound quota. At the same time, jiggers can keep as much pollock as they catch. But so far it hasn’t been much of a draw. “No one seems to be taking advantage of the pollock jig fishery in the sense that they are going out and targeting pollock,” said Matt Keyse, a regional manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak.  So far 15,000 pounds of pollock delivered by jig boats, which is about average, Keyes said.  “Every year jig cod boats tend to land between 20-30,000 pounds of pollock, and I expect we’ll be in that same range if things remain the same as they are now,” he added. The jig cod price at Kodiak is 35 cents per pound; pollock is closer to 13 cents. A dozen seiners signed up for the first ever pollock fishery and Keyse said he’s just waiting for the boats to show. “At this point we are waiting for someone to approach us and say they are ready to go,” Keyes said. “There has been interest and most people who signed up a few weeks ago indicated it was probably going to be late May or early June because most of those boats are out herring fishing right now. So anytime between now and June 9th a guy can try some pollock seining.” The Kodiak salmon season begins on June 9 and Keyes said there won’t be conflicting seine gear in the water. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut prices up; acidification is a problem for salmon

The basic laws of supply and demand are resulting in a nice payday for Alaska halibut and sablefish harvesters. Prices for both fish are up by more than a dollar per pound compared to the same time last year. Fresh halibut has been moving smoothly and demand is steady since the fishery opened in early March, said a major Kodiak buyer, where dock prices were reported at $6 per pound for 10- to 20-pounders, $6.25 for halibut weighing 20 to 40 pounds, and $6.50 for “40 ups.” At Homer and in Southeast Alaska, halibut prices have yet to drop below six bucks per pound, said local processors. Dock prices at Homer last week ranged from $6.50 to $7.00 per pound “for very small loads.” At Southeast, after reaching a high of $6.75 at Easter, halibut prices were $6.60/$6.40 /$6.10 per pound, depending on size. Processors are reporting “strong halibut catches and lots of nice fish.” The fresh fish is being flown out almost daily from Southeast and distributed in small lots to markets all over the U.S. Alaska’s total halibut catch this year is close to 16 million pounds. The higher halibut prices are likely due to the slower pace of the fishery and less fish crossing the docks. Just more than 3.5 million pounds had been landed statewide by May 2 out of a nearly 19 million pound catch limit. Top ports for halibut landings were Seward, Homer, Petersburg and Kodiak. For sablefish, commonly called black cod, longliners are benefitting from “bare cupboards” and strong demand by buyers in Japan, where the bulk of Alaska’s catch goes. Last year, holdovers in freezers pushed prices down 40 percent to the $3 to $5 per pound range, depending on fish size. Black cod is usually priced in five weights, ranging from less than three pounds to more than seven pounds. At Kodiak the breakout was $6.75, $5.75, $5.00, $4.50 and $4.00. Sablefish prices at Homer were running between $4 and $7 a pound. Southeast processors reported prices at $5.30 to $7 a pound at the docks. Alaska’s sablefish catch this year is about 24 million pounds. Most deliveries are going to Seward, followed by Kodiak and Homer. Snails on acid Argue all you want about climate change — even a Toys R Us chemistry set will prove that the oceans are more acidic. Now, a federal study is revealing its first findings on how corrosive oceans are affecting sea life — and it points to big trouble for pink salmon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, announced last week the first evidence showing the high acid content in the Pacific Ocean is dissolving the shells of tiny free-swimming snails called pteropods. The tiny snails make up 45 percent of the diet of pink salmon; they also are a food source for herring and mackerel. Researchers at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle said the percentage of   pteropods with corroded shells has doubled in near shore areas since the pre-industrial era.  Study co-author William Peterson said scientists did not expect to see pteropods being affected to this extent for several decades. The number of snails with dissolving shells is likely to triple by 2050, he said, when waters close to shore are projected to be 70 percent more corrosive. The problem stems from carbon dioxide being released into the air by human industry that is absorbed by the ocean and becomes carbolic acid. When you combine the corrosion with increasing ocean temperatures, the entire marine mix is affected. “With a 10 percent increase in water temperature, which is what most people fear in terms of climate change, there would be about a 3 percent drop in mature salmon body weight,” said Bob Foy, director of the NOAA lab at Kodiak. “On the other hand, a 10 percent drop in pteropod production would lead to about a 20 percent drop in body weight. Obviously, the system is fairly dynamic, but the loss of pteropod population would be extremely detrimental to pink salmon.” Pinks make up Alaska’s largest salmon fishery by volume and second only to sockeyes in value. Last year’s pink salmon catch was a record 219 million fish valued at $277 million at the docks. NOAA research finds acid dissolving snail shells. Fish Watch Seiners and gillnetters were making their way through a nearly 28,000-ton roe herring haul at Togiak in Bristol Bay. Herring fisheries also were ongoing at Kodiak and Southeast regions. A fleet of 60 jig boats fished for cod and black rockfish in the Central Gulf. Prices were 35 cents and 45 cents, respectively. Trawlers were targeting other rockfish (there are over 30 species), which will add up to 15 million pounds coming into Kodiak. Pot shrimp reopened in Prince William Sound on May 1. The same day, the spring troll fishery for Chinook salmon got underway in Southeast Alaska. The 2014 salmon season will officially kick off when the reds and kings return to the Copper River. The tentative opening date is May 15. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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