Laine Welch

Board nominations in; Southeast herring fishery finished

Nine names are vying for three seats on the state Board of Fisheries, including six newcomers.  That gives Governor Parnell the unique opportunity to replace a majority of the seven-member Fish Board, should he choose to do so, and should the Alaska legislature go along with it — an unlikely scenario.  It took filing a Freedom of Information request and a 10-day wait to get the names of the Fish Board hopefuls, said veteran legislative watchdog Bob Tkacz in his weekly Laws for the Sea. They include the three incumbents — John Jensen of Petersburg, Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak, and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks. The hopefuls included: Alan Gross of Petersburg, an orthopedic surgeon and new commercial fishing skipper; Dean Scott Risley, a 26-year gillnetter from Haines; Harvey Kitka, a hand troller and Sitka Tribal council member; William Kuhlmann, a retired Bristol Bay setnetter now living in Eagle River; Thane Humphrey, a business/training entrepreneur and outdoor survival expert from Anchorage, and Cary Jones, a Juneau chiropractor. The Legislature has scheduled a joint session for April 11 to vote on all confirmations. Tops to the Rock Kodiak will be one of the first Alaska towns to meet Eileen Sobeck, the newly named NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator, often called the National Marine Fisheries Service. Her visit comes in response to a ComFish invitation from the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce; accompanying her will be Senator Mark Begich, well known for bringing D.C. officials to all corners of the state.  “She is anxious to come and learn more about Alaska specific issues and ComFish is the perfect event for her to really get a good sense of that,” Sen. Begich said in a phone conversation. “There is so much you learn when you go out to the remote communities.” Kodiak will provide an opportunity for Sobeck to see Alaska’s most diverse fishing fleet and busiest year-round working waterfront.  “On the fish end, there is no question that Kodiak is the right place to be and we’re going to give her a good education,” Begich said. As NOAA Fisheries director, Sobeck oversees the management and conservation of all marine life in U.S. waters, from coastal habitat to humpback whales and everything in between.  She is scheduled to spend two days in Kodiak starting April 17. See the line up at  www.comfishalaska.com. Sobeck will also visit the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage prior to her Kodiak visit. Long haul for crab science Alaska’s golden king crab fleet plans to undertake the largest survey ever covering the entire range of the Aleutian Islands golden king crab stock — an 800-mile span from Dutch Harbor to Atka. “It is exciting to think that for the first time we will have a good index of the size of the golden population, the age and sex structure, the distribution and how deep they go and what proportion of the population occurs at different depths,” said John Hilsinger, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation. Through 2006 state managers surveyed a small area of the Aleutians, but there’s been no budget since to assess the far flung crab stocks. The foundation formed two years ago and its harvester members partner with biologists during the golden king crab fishery. “We plan to design the survey for the entire area, and then start off the first year by doing a portion of it to prove the concept and make sure it works and integrates well with the fishermen. Then we’ll spread it out,” Hilsinger said.    The expanded surveys will start yielding meaningful results in three to five years, and it could be 10 years before a proven track record of the population can be modeled over time. “The crabbers are very committed to help over that time frame. That’s a real major contribution by the fleet,” he added.   The Aleutians golden king crab fishery harvest has operated under a six million pound fixed cap for decades, and crabbers believe the catch could be higher. Eventually, goldens could overtake Bristol Bay and become Alaska’s largest king crab fishery. If the survey gets the nod by stakeholders in May, it will begin when the fishery opens in mid-August. Fish watch Herring seiners at Sitka Sound last week landed close to their 16,000-ton quota and roe counts were high – the only thing missing is a price. Lots of herring roe remains in the freezers of Alaska’s single customer, Japan, who had yet to make an advance price offer. Last year Sitka fishermen averaged about $500 per ton; talk on the dock last week put it closer to $150.  Conversely, freezers of sablefish (black cod) have emptied and pushed up prices for those prized fish. Seafood.com reports fishermen’s prices at Southeast Alaska at $5.25 for 5-7 pounders, $4.50 for 4- to 5-pound fish, and $3.75 for 3- to 4-pound fish. Buyers report good interest in sablefish and more demand is coming from U.S. restaurants. Last year about 70 percent of Alaska sablefish went to Japan, down from nearly 100 percent a few years ago. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut fishery underway; seafood sales increase for Lent

March 5 marked the start of Lent, a time of fasting, soul searching and repentance for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world. And what the burst in the holiday sales season from Thanksgiving to Christmas means to retailers, Lent means the same to the seafood industry. The 40-day Lenten season, which this year runs from March 5 to Easter Sunday on April 20, dates back to the 4th century, and it has been customary to forego meat ever since. While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are the so-called “whitefish” species, such as cod, pollock, flounders, and halibut. Food Services of America reports that Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for frozen seafood sales, and the six weeks following is the top selling season for the entire year. (Ash Wednesday is so called from the ritual of placing ashes from burned palm branches on the forehead to symbolize “that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”) Overall, Americans ate more seafood during Lent in 2013 than in previous years, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. GrubHub, the nation’s top online and mobile food-ordering company which works with nearly 30,000 restaurants in 600 cities, said the number of people eating fish on Fridays increased by 20 percent during Lent last year since 2011. The Filet-O-Fish sandwich, which was launched by McDonald’s on Good Friday, is made with Alaska pollock and sales top 300 million a year. Nearly 25 percent of the fish sandwiches each year are sold during Lent. No matter what the seafood favorite, the long Lenten season is good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 60 percent of the wild-caught seafood to U.S. restaurants and grocery stores. Halibut’s here Alaska longliners are ready to haul in the year’s first fresh halibut with the March 8 start of the fishery. Alaska’s halibut catch of roughly 19 million pounds is down about 11 percent. Sablefish, or black cod, also opens on March 8. That quota was reduced by 10 percent this year to just under 34 million pounds.  Less overall fish might bump up dock prices, but it will take a week or so for markets to settle out. Buyer resistance to the high priced fish came into play last year and sales started off slowly.  The first fresh landings last year fetched $5.25 to $5.75 at major ports, then dropped about a dollar in the first week. Likewise, starting sablefish prices were down by 40 percent, ranging from $3 to $5 across five sizes. As a price watch: Last year’s average Alaska fish prices were $5.06 per pound for halibut and $2.84 per pound for sablefish. That compares to $5.87 and $4.11 in 2012. Alaska fishermen provide more than 95 percent of our nation’s halibut and over 70 percent of the sablefish.  Switching to herring The upcoming roe herring harvest at Sitka Sound has been clipped to 16,333 tons, about 1,200 tons less than announced in December. State managers are already set to start aerial surveys for signs of the roe herring run. Herring managers also think the warm spring means the fish might show early at Togiak in Bristol Bay. That is Alaska’s largest herring fishery with a catch this year at nearly 28,000 tons. A push is gaining steam to use all of the herring, not just the female roe, instead of grinding it into fishmeal. In Norway, herring is sold smoked, canned, pickled and more. Fishermen there get 47 cents a pound for their catch; that compares to $100 per ton at Togiak. A McDowell Group report showed that if male herring from Togiak and Kodiak fisheries were made into frozen fillets, the wholesale value would approach $15 million. Bring ‘em back Researchers at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center are tops at the work they do — the Center is the research arm of NOAA Fisheries. Their science forms the basis for setting Alaska fish quotas, running observer programs, tightening bycatch limits, to name just a few. But the Alaska Fisheries Science Center is located in Seattle. Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford wants to bring those science jobs closer to the sources they study. “There are other places in Southeast where some of these jobs could go, and there’s also Kodiak which has a big fishing industry where some of the jobs could go. We want to look at all of that,” he said at a recent meeting. Sanford has created a task force to learn how those science jobs might be brought back to Alaska. Attracting more federal jobs to Juneau is an Assembly priority, he said, as well as lab techs and research vessels. “If we could move even a few to our own research centers in our own fisheries areas, I think it would be a big advantage to us,” he said. NOAA Fisheries has fewer than 200 researchers in Alaska, mostly in Juneau. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle lists more than 400 on the job. That’s a long commute to and from the fishing grounds. So how did the Center end up there in the first place? “That is where the geographical distribution of the labor force developed around the time of statehood,” NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told KTOO in Juneau, “and it’s mostly just been maintained there.”   The Assembly task force will reveal its findings in six months. Fish flash! Eileen Sobeck, the new director of NOAA Fisheries, will attend the ComFish trade show next month in Kodiak. U.S. Senator Mark Begich is bringing Sobeck to the event; it will be her first trip to Alaska. Begich frequently attends ComFish and holds informal, open meetings with all comers. www.comfishalaska.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

West coast scallops are suffering from ocean acidification

Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, U.S. policy makers are quibbling over climate issues as bivalves dissolve in an increasingly corrosive Pacific Ocean. Any kid’s chemistry set will show that big changes are occurring in seawater throughout the world. As the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning outputs (primarily coal), it increases acidity to a point where shellfish can’t survive. It is referred to as ocean acidification and results in sea creatures’ inability to grow skeletons and protective shells. The process occurs much faster in colder climes. West coast scallops are the latest bivalves to feel the bite. Ten million tiny scallops have died in waters off Victoria, British Columbia, reported the Parksville Qualicum Beach News. Nanaimo-based Island Scallops, a grow-out hatchery with 1,235 acres in production, has shut down its processing plant and laid off a third of its workforce. That accounts for about 16 percent of B.C.’s total shellfish aquaculture valued at $10 million. Island Scallops started seeing problems in 2009 along with other Washington hatcheries, said CEO Rob Saunders. “Suddenly we were getting these low pH values. That level has been so stable that for many years no one bothered to measure it because it never changed. It was really startling,” he told the News. Early last year the company counted three million scallops seeded in 2010 and seven million from 2011, and was gearing up for processing. But the shellfish started to die and by July the losses reached 95 percent. Other local growers faced the same fate. “The high acidity in the local waters interferes with everything they do, their basic physiology is affected,” said Chris Harley, a marine ecologist at the University of B.C. Growers are artificially increasing the pH levels of the water that circulates through the hatcheries to protect the larvae, but that is little help to the shellfish once they are moved to the sea. The B.C. Shellfish Growers Association stated that the acidic ocean is increasingly having an effect on survival and growth of shellfish during grow out in the ocean, and that last year mortalities reached 90 percent in all year classes. Pacific oysters also are one of the most vulnerable to the ocean corrosion. In 2005, growers first noticed oyster failures in natural sets in Willapa Bay in southern Puget Sound, and production was off by 80 percent by 2009.  “The oysters still grow a shell; it’s just that it dissolves from the outside faster than they can grow it. So eventually they lose the race and they die,” said Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms with 11,000 acre in Shelton, Wash. It is the nation’s largest shellfish producer with 500 employees. Growers there have learned that wind direction tells them when to plug intake pipes to the shellfish holding tanks. When the wind shifts from south to north, they know they have about a 24-hour window before corrosive waters show up. Meanwhile, Taylor is planning to move more of its oyster operations to Hawaii. Closer to home, researchers are seeing signs of corrosion in tiny shrimp-like pteropods — which make up 45 percent of the diet of Alaska pink salmon. Carbon dioxide has passed 400 parts per million, or ppm, in the Earth’s atmosphere, according to measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory. That’s up from 280 ppm in the pre-industrial era. Halibut help Halibut researchers will test deeper and shallower water depths to get better data on the dwindling stocks, and more fishing boats are needed to help. Each summer up to 15 boats are contracted to help halibut scientists survey 1,300 stations from Oregon to the Bering Sea. Since 1998 the surveys have been done in a depth range of 20 to 275 fathoms where most of the fishing takes place. This year they want to check out different depths.  “We use the area from zero to 400 fathoms as halibut habitat, but our surveys cover the area from 20 to 275 fathoms,” said Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “So we’re using the catch rates from our existing survey depths to extend into those areas. We know we are ignoring some habitat where fishing is going on, but we don’t have the data so we are extrapolating from our known survey areas into the unknown.” Leaman said researchers plan to expand the surveys from 275 to 400 fathoms and from 20 down to 10 fathoms along the Pacific Coast and in area 4A — the Bering Sea edge and eastern Aleutians region near Unalaska. There are four survey regions in that region and each one contains 40 to 50 stations. “That’s one of the areas where we are seeing an increasing amount of fishing going on below 275 fathoms,” Leaman said. “Actually, all of the Bering Sea has a significant number of survey stations that are in depths that we don’t currently occupy.” The halibut stock surveys occur from late May through August, and it takes three to four weeks to get the job done. It’s a chance to make a good chunk of change, said survey manager Claude Dykstra. Typical payouts range from $70,000 to $120,000 depending on survey regions. Boats also get 10 percent of the halibut sales and 50 percent of any other fish retained and sold. Vessels using fixed gear can submit a proposal at www.iphc.int. Fish watch March 8 was opening day for halibut and sablefish. Fishing continues throughout Alaska for cod, flounder and other groundfish. In a few weeks, the jig fleet will be the first to take part in a new small boat pollock fishery, and managers report lots of interest. The Bering Sea pollock fishery will wrap up in a few weeks with a half-million-ton catch for the winter season. Trawlers will be back on the water in June with a total pollock catch this year of nearly three billion pounds. Crabbing continues in the Bering Sea for golden kings, Tanners and snow crab. Seiners will soon head to Sitka for the mid- to late-March arrival of roe herring. They will compete for a nice haul of more than 17,000 tons. Small boats wanting to drop dredges for the new state water scallop fishery must register by April 1. The Board of Fish will hold its final meeting for this cycle from March 17 to 21 in Anchorage. Statewide king and Tanner crab and supplemental items are on the agenda. Fish bits The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will get a $2.5 million cut if recommendations by a House Finance Subcommittee are accepted by the full Legislature and approved by Gov. Parnell. That includes a 10 percent reduction in state funding for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or about $780,000. The ADFG subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Bill Stoltze of Chugiak, who recommended cuts by division and not specific programs, said Juneau watch dog Bob Tkacz in Laws for the Sea. The long awaited book — “Catching a Deckload of Dreams” — recounts the journey of Chuck Bundrant from deckhand to chairman and founder of Trident Seafoods, the largest seafood harvesting and processing company in North America. When he arrived in Seattle in 1961, Bundrant had $80 in his pocket. Currently, Trident has sales topping $1 billion, employs more than 10,000 people and its products are sold in over 50 countries. The book is authored by John Van Amerongen. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

IPHC tests pollock as bait to replace spendier salmon

Bait is a big expenditure for many fishing businesses and pollock could help cut costs for Alaska halibut longliners who fish in the Gulf of Alaska. Researchers have tested pollock in two projects to see if it might replace pricier chum salmon as halibut bait. Fish biologists use more than 300,000 pounds of chums in their stock surveys each year, costing nearly $500,000. The baits are used at more than 1,200 testing stations from Oregon to the Bering Sea. A pilot study three years ago in the central Gulf and off of British Columbia showed some promising signs for pollock. “We looked at several different baits — our standard chum salmon, pink salmon, pollock and herring. Pollock showed a very strong indication of both better catch rates and lower bycatch rates, so we were very excited about that,” said Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. In 2012, the bait project was expanded coastwide, and that led to mixed results. “One confirmed what we saw in the Gulf, in that pollock was a very effective bait there relative to chum salmon and we got good catch rates. But when we moved into the Bering Sea, we got completely opposite results where the salmon bait performed better than the pollock,” Leaman said. “In the Bering Sea, pollock is a very significant component of halibut diet, and we were speculating that it may be a sort of novelty seeing salmon down there as bait, and that may have been what the fish were responding to.” When all the raw data were statistically compiled and corrected, Leaman said the bait test results were inconsistent. “We do a number of corrections to the data to actually compare apples to apples across areas. One of the things we correct for is the number of returned baits and the hook competition among areas,” Leaman explained. “And when we did those comparisons, we found that the results were nowhere near as strong as with the raw data. The raw data showed pollock had much better catch rates, lower amounts of sub-legal fish and lower amounts of bycatch. But when we did corrections to the data we found that those results were not so consistent.” The pollock bait still caught fewer small fish, but overall, the halibut catch rates were almost the same as with chum bait. “That’s not necessarily a bad result,” Leaman said. “It’s just that pollock was not as grossly superior compared to what we had been using.” Studies will continue but for now chums will remain the bait of choice for science. Leaman does agree that pollock can be a good bait alternative for halibut in the Gulf. “It’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s far less expensive and can represent a significant savings. In fact, some are already using pollock right now.” Call for fish techs There is a severe shortage of fish technicians and biologists in Alaska’s largest industry, and it is a trend that is predicted to continue for at least the next 10 years. A new statewide outreach programs started last fall aims to fill the bill. “Some of the positions for fisheries technicians include fish culturists, fishery observers, fish and wildlife surveyors, habitat restoration technicians, stream surveyors, fishery management assistants, and hatchery technicians,” said Kaitlin Kramer of Valdez. She is one of six outreach coordinators located also in Petersburg, Kodiak, Homer, Sitka and Dillingham. They work for the University of Alaska Southeast; the Fish Tech program is headquartered at Sitka. “Our role is to reach out to the communities where we live and help promote the fisheries technology program, try to recruit students and facilitate internships with local industries,” Kramer added. Two training programs are offered — a Fisheries Technology certification and an Associates of Applied Science in Fisheries Technology. All classes are available to students on their computers. The classes are recorded online with instructors in Sitka and as long as they have an internet connection, students can view them on their own time, or they have the option of sitting in live as the class is being taught. Classes follow the college semester schedule, Kramer said but people can tune in when it’s convenient. She said most people are surprised at the wide range of good jobs in the seafood industry, beyond catching and processing fish. “A lot of people don’t realize anything about this degree, or even what people in the fisheries technician world do,” Kramer said. ´It’s fun to let them know that there are options available and there are so many opportunities throughout the state. This program is really trying to reach out and let Alaskans know that in every community, there is a related job.” The Fish Tech program offers scholarships and internships. Registration opens April 21. For more information call 907-747-7717 or visit www.uas.alaska.edu/career_ed/fisheries/ SWAMC soiree Energy, fisheries, and politics will be served up at SWAMC’s 26th Economic Development summit next month. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference is a non-profit group that represents more than 50 communities, including Kodiak, Bristol Bay and the Aleutians. SWAMC interim director Erik O’Brien said the group networks with more than 100 members and their main connection is fish. “The one unifying need of the whole industry is making the most value out of our fisheries and seafood,” O’Brien said. “That is really the one single thing everyone has in common.” The three-day summit will cover a wide range of economic topics. “On our first day the main thing we will look at is how do you bring down the overall cost of energy. Day two will focus on developing our human capital in our education, training and workforce development systems and how we can make those better. Then on the fisheries day, we will discuss how the maximum sustained yield benefits the people of Alaska,” O’Brien said. Candidates for governor Bill Walker, running as an independent, and Democrat Byron Mallott will participate in a debate on the final night; no word yet if Gov. Sean Parnell will show. The SWAMC Summit runs March 5-7 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. Debate updates Kodiak is featuring two fisheries debates this year, an event that began in 1990. The first, on May 23, will feature Alaska’s candidates for U.S. Senate. Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell quickly accepted the invite and Sen. Mark Begich is making plans to attend. No word yet from Republicans Joe Miller or Dan Sullivan, said Trevor Brown, director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event. A second debate on Aug. 28 will bring the candidates for Alaska governor to Kodiak. The two-hour event is broadcast live via APRN to more than 300 Alaska communities. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

State DEC says seafood is free from Fukishima radiation

Alaska seafood is free of radiation stemming from Japan’s 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. That was the take home message from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to the state Senate Resources Committee at a recent hearing. Citing information from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Pacific states including Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington, as well as Health Canada, “all have demonstrated there are no levels of radiation that are of a public health concern,” said Marty Brewer, director of DEC’s Environmental Health Division. She added that only small amounts of radiation have been detected from the reactor source. “There has been detection of cesium that is reportedly from Fukushima but at miniscule levels,” Brewer said. DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig said programs in the Lower 48 are testing fish that swim between the Gulf of Alaska, the West Coast and Japan, and they have come up with a clean bill of health. The DEC also is monitoring marine debris washing ashore in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound, Hartig said.  None of the debris that has washed ashore anywhere in the U.S. so far has shown signs of radiation. Fish behavior cuts bycatch Fishing gear experts are using fish behavior to take a bite out of unwanted salmon bycatch in trawl nets. Video cameras inside nets revealed several years ago that Alaska pollock and salmon behave very differently when captured. Salmon were able to swim against the strong flow within the net better than the pollock, said John Gauvin, a gear specialist who for decades has worked closely with the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fleets. “You would see the salmon moving forward in the net at times, and you would see the pollock steadily dropping back, with some ability to move forward but at a loss. They would move a little bit forward and then move a lot back,” he explained. Trawlers will soon begin field testing a so called “over and under” net device to see how it performs.  “We are pretty excited about this device and we are going to be doing testing this spring in the Gulf and then, hopefully, in the fall in the Bering Sea,” Gauvin said. A “flapper” excluder device, used by many trawlers since 2012, has resulted in a 25 percent to 37 percent chinook salmon escapement with very little loss of pollock. While it works well, Gauvin said the design is difficult to adopt widely into the fishery and takes a lot of fine-tuning. Finding “cleaner” gear that is affordable and adaptable will drive the future of our fisheries, Gauvin believes.  “What is interesting to me today is that in many ways, success in the fisheries is not so much of what you catch, but what you don’t catch,” he mused. “Fishermen spend a lot of time figuring out how to avoid things they are not supposed to catch so they can continue to make a living.” Fish = Healthy Hearts February is American Heart Month and the role of seafood and heart health is being featured in a nationwide media blitz. The American Heart Association has placed one million magazine inserts in major newspapers from Boston to L.A., and they include full page ads about the importance of eating more seafood. “The science is there to help all of us understand that eating seafood twice a week can be great for our heart health, but that message is just not getting out. So this is our first effort to work with health partners to bring a credible message to Americans. We are very excited about it,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which promotes the twice a week message across the country. “I can see that people understand that seafood is good for them,” she continued. “The hurdles come from knowing how to buy it and cook it, and understanding the different varieties of seafood they can include in their diet.” Getting women across those hurdles is especially important for women (who do most of the home food shopping), as heart disease is by far the No. 1 killer of American women. Cornish said the Seafood Nutrition Partnership also is testing various outreach messages to see how they resonate with consumers — and to balance out negative messages. “What you are seeing in terms of the different messages on mercury and toxicity is very well founded; it’s just that you hear more of those messages versus the good news on seafood. So our initiative is to try and get more positive messages out about seafood and provide a more balanced view.” Pick the winners! The Fishing Family Photo Contest from the Alaska Seafood marketing Institute attracted more than 700 entries, and it’s now time to vote for your favorites. Categories include Best Family or Kids photo, Best Old School or Throwback, Best Fish, Best Scenic, Best Boat, Best Humor and Best Action photo. The Fan Favorite wins two Alaska Airlines tickets; other top winners get iPads. The winning images may be used in ASMI’s promotions in 21 countries Finalist photos are hosted in a Facebook app that allows visitors to browse and vote for the images they like best. To vote, “like” Alaska Seafood on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alaskaseafood and locate the contest app in the upper right, or by visiting http://bit.ly/1n7YVyP. Each visitor may vote once per photo per day. Voting ends at midnight Feb. 17. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Debut of new seafood products planned at annual gala

Eleven new seafood products from seven companies will be showcased at the upcoming Symphony of Seafood galas in Seattle and Anchorage. In its 21 years the event has introduced and promoted hundreds of new Alaska seafood items to the marketplace. “Developing new products is really hard,” said Julie Decker, new executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which hosts the event. (Decker replaces Jim Browning, who retired.) “It costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time and attention, and sometimes the products are wonderful and sometimes they are not. So this event really helps companies determine how the market place is going to receive their product.” Entries always come from major Alaska seafood companies to small “mom and pops.” This year they include beer battered cod, a ready-to-eat grilled pollock fillet, all-natural Keta Salmon Jerky and Little Sammies in a blanket made with salmon franks. On Feb. 5 in Seattle, an expert panel will judge all of the products in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Winners will be kept secret and announced after a tasting bash at the Anchorage Hilton on Feb. 13. All top entries — plus a grand prize winner selected by voters — receive a trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March. Last year’s Grand Prize went to Zesty Grill Sockeye Salmon by Copper River Seafoods; the 2012 big winner was Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustumena Smokehouse in Soldotna. New life for old fishery Small boat fishermen will have a chance to drop dredges for Weathervane scallops this summer. Starting July 1, state waters of Yakutat, Prince William Sound, Shelikof Strait and Dutch Harbor will be open to any vessel that registers for the fishery before April 1. Only four or five boats have targeted Alaska scallops since the fishery went limited entry 15 years ago, after waves of East Coast boats boosted the number to more than 20. The boats today are usually 70 feet to 80 feet, but 58-footers also have participated, said Wayne Donaldson, state regional shellfish manager at Kodiak. The total Alaska catch is usually half a million pounds of shucked meats. “You need a boat that has enough horse power to pull a scallop dredge along the bottom, and you need enough deck space to haul up the dredge and to sort out the scallops. So we will see how small the boats are that decide to jump into it.” Donaldson added: “Since it is all new we encourage anybody who is thinking of getting into the scallop fishery to give us a call or stop by so we can go over how the regulations are structured.” USA Strong Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export, and a strong U.S. dollar means it will cost more for global customers to buy it. “The dollar is really strengthening against a basket of other currencies because the U.S. economy is doing better than many other places,” said market expert John Sackton of Seafood.com. “So it makes imports of things like farmed shrimp, salmon or tilapia less expensive for the U.S. to buy, and it makes exports from the U.S. more expensive in the host currency, whether it’s Yen or Euro, Canadian or Yuan or whatever.” Each year between 60 to 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported to other countries, and a strengthening dollar will make it slightly harder for Alaska to be competitive, Sackton predicted. “But I would think of it more as a headwind,” he added, “rather than a change in direction.” Aqua Awards National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant plans to award $3 million to fund a national competition for marine aquaculture research projects. It is part of the ‘overall plan to support the development of environmentally and economically sustainable ocean, coastal or Great Lakes aquaculture,’ according to the grant website. Institutions of higher education, nonprofit and commercial organizations, state, local and tribal governments and individuals are eligible. Topical priorities for the fiscal year 2014 include research to inform about pending regulatory decisions, informational outreach tools, social and/or economic research to understand aquaculture issues and impacts in a larger context. Pre-proposals must be received via email to the National Sea Grant Office by 5 p.m. eastern time on Feb. 21. Tune in to fish meetings The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Feb. 3-10 at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle. The meeting will be broadcast at npfmc.webex.com. The agenda will be continually updated with the associated documents.  The state Board of Fisheries is meeting through Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. The agenda includes 236 proposals directed at Upper Cook Inlet finfish fisheries. Those meetings also are available as they happen on the web. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Setnet opponents file appeal; Begich, Murkowski on Pebble

A measure aimed at banning salmon setnetting is being held afloat by backers. The ban includes the Anchorage area, much of the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Juneau. It would completely eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters and affect roughly 500 fishing families in all. Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell decided two weeks ago (Jan. 6) to not allow the question to go before Alaska voters as a ballot initiative in 2016. The newly formed Kenai-based Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance followed up with an appeal filed in Alaska Superior Court. “In a measure based on conservation and Alaska law, our organization will challenge the decision to disallow our proposed statewide commercial set net ban in the urban, non-subsistence regions of Alaska from going to the state voters,” AFCA Director Clark Penney said at a press conference.  Alliance legal counsel Matt Singer called the legal opinion “incorrect.” “The decision by the Lt. Governor and the opinion by the Attorney General upon which it was based is wrong. They are wrong on the law,” Singer said. “The decision, should it stand, will set a dangerous precedent for Alaska.” The setnet ban is being driven primarily by the dwindling number of king salmon returning to Cook Inlet, which has curtailed salmon fishing across the board for several years. Removing setnetters would likely shift more fish to sport anglers and the drift fleet targeting sockeyes. Treadwell ruled it amounts to fish allocation decisions, which cannot be made through a voter initiative. The Alliance insists, however, that it is a conservation measure. Treadwell urged all users to find solutions, and to let decisions be made by the State Board of Fisheries. But Matt Singer countered that AFCA has no confidence in the board. “The board has not conserved kings, and the voters have a right to express their will,” he asserted. Cook Inlet sport fishermen would not oppose restrictions in the name of king conservation, said AFCA President Joe Connors. Alliance founder and sport fish icon Bob Penney said he recognizes the importance of commercial fishing in Alaska, but alleged that setnets have the “highest bycatch” of any fishing in state waters. Penney called setnets an “inappropriate gear” when king salmon numbers were steadily dwindling. “You don’t wait till the kings are gone to say we should have done something,” Penney said. “Now is the time to protect the fish. Conservation of the fish comes first.” The setnet ban is widely opposed by other Alaska fishing groups and the city and borough of Kenai. The Alliance hopes to fast track the setnet ban case, Singer said, so that a decision is made in the next few months. Pebble point/counterpoint Reactions last week by Alaska’s U.S. senators differed widely to the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that the Pebble Mine would be “devastating” to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and Native culture. That sets the stage for the agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to permanently ban mining in the region. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was critical of what she terms a ‘pre-emptive’ veto and not following a clear process. “I had expressed concern about an effort to prejudge where there has not been a plan that is clearly delineated, permit applications have not been made and the required analysis completed,” she said in a phone conversation. “The project is not located on federal lands, it’s on state lands and you have a federal agency weighing in ahead of such time as there has been a clear project outlined.” The EPA weighed in at the request of more than a dozen Alaska Native tribes in the Southwest region. Sen. Mark Begich had a different stance, calling Pebble “the wrong mine in the wrong place.”  The “science” drove his decision, Begich said, and a visit to Red Dog, an open pit zinc mine near Kotzebue that he supports, reinforced it. “In my view, that specific type of mine could devastate the long term subsistence, commercial and recreational fisheries, and I felt it was not worth trading off a nonrenewable resource for a renewable resource,” Begich said.   Acoustic comments extended In a quick, NOAA Fisheries has agreed to a 45-day extension for comments on its draft study of how man made noises affect marine mammals. The deadline was set for Jan. 27 but extended to March 13 at the urging of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was irate when the agency put out its notice during the holidays and few people were aware of it. The “Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic [manmade] Sound on Marine Mammals” will be used by federal agencies and other stakeholders to predict a marine mammal’s response to sounds exposure from activities including construction, shipping, resource development and military operations. Fish watch Alaska’s share of this year’s halibut catch will be just less than 20 million pounds, down about 11 percent from 2013. Southeast Alaska was the only region where the catch limit increased, topping 4 million pounds (between commercial and charter fishermen). The halibut fishery will run from March 8 to Nov. 7 Alaska’s pollock fisheries began on Jan. 20 in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Bering Sea catch will be nearly 3 billion pounds this year; another four million pounds will come from the Gulf, up nearly 45 percent from last year. Trawlers also are targeting cod and various flat fish in both regions. The Bering Sea snow crab catch has topped 30 percent of the 48.5 million pound harvest limit. Crabbers also are targeting Tanner crab and golden kings along the Aleutians. Southeast crabbers will drop pots for Tanners and goldens in early February. Fish bucks give back American Seafoods Company is again calling for applications for its Community Grants program. A total of $30,000 will be given to projects addressing issues of hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of grant awards range from $500 to $3,000.

Treadwell to leverage Arctic expertise in Senate contest

Good science should drive all fisheries decisions, and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell says he has the chops to maintain a true course. Treadwell, a Republican who hopes to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in November’s election, paid a recent visit to Kodiak and “talked fish” in a brief interview. Few can claim Treadwell’s experience and understanding of the Arctic, where he has represented Alaska on U.S. Delegations in three circumpolar government groups, and been a director of the Institute of the North. He said he “doesn’t expect any major fisheries there anytime soon.” Treadwell called ocean acidification one of the “most pressing effects” of climate change, and “one of the toughest things to adapt to.” The solutions, he believes, lie in better technology. “I have always supported trying to make our energy cleaner,” he said, pointing to potential in CO2 sequestration technology and use of hydrogen vehicles. “I believe we can and must be a proving ground for some of these new technologies.” Treadwell added that he always has been a “tireless advocate for our oceans.” “But you are not going to find me, as a responsible official from a state known for three things:  cold, dark, distance — and where people are already paying too much for energy, trying to raise their energy prices,” he said. Treadwell has played a leading role in the launch of nearly every Alaska research center from Ketchikan to Barrow; he is a past director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, served as Cordova’s director of oil spill response after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and was a founder of the Prince William Sound Science Center. “I would come to the Senate with that background,” he said. “I am probably one of the most scientifically savvy people to have ever served.” On the fisheries side, Treadwell believes “knowledge is power.” He said his entire career has focused on “commons management” of resources, starting with his first job in Alaska as an intern to Wally Hickel when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1974.  Treadwell helped Hickel pen his position on the 200-mile limit, and he later wrote his graduate thesis at Yale on the limit’s history going back to 1937.    “I also am no stranger to the senior fisheries managers in this country. I have been part of the fight to get CDQs (Community Development Quotas) — and I will be there fighting with knowledge even if I don’t have seniority,” he said. Treadwell said he is “passionate” about protecting the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal communities.   “I think of our fishermen as some of the last free people on earth and I want to make sure we maintain that freedom,” he said. “To do that, it takes three things: make sure the biology is sustained, make sure any program works economically and you don’t drive the fishermen out of business, and make sure there is equity so that you keep fishing families fishing. My motto to any young person is ‘never leave your government alone,’” the Senate hopeful added. “If you do, they will get their own ideas and they are not always useful to you.”  Comment deadline flub No one appears to know that a deadline to have a say on how man-made sounds affect marine mammals is Jan. 27. Two days after Christmas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, released its “Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic (man made) Sound on Marine Mammals,” which seeks to improve understanding of acoustical impacts on the animals. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was irate at NOAA’s untimely “holiday surprise” in announcing the opportunity for the public to comment.  “This is a national issue, but when you think about Alaska, it is something that has the potential to affect our coastal communities, the maritime sector, the transit of all of our goods, the fishing industry, oil and gas — basically anyone who is out on the water,” Murkowski said in a phone interview. “It will include the noises of seismic activity from exploratory depth soundings, or driving piles to expand a dock at the Port of Anchorage or a coastal community.”   Specifically, the “guidance assessments” identify the thresholds above which marine mammals are predicted to experience changes in their hearing sensitivity from all underwater manmade sound sources. The document outlines NOAA’s updated acoustic threshold levels, describes how they were developed and how they will be updated in the future. It is the first time NOAA has presented this information in a single document. Murkowski has urged NOAA to allow an extra 60 days for the public to become more familiar with the draft report and comment. “If you are going to have good process and get meaningful feedback on such a complex issue, you have to allow for time to weigh in. We really need to have an extension,” she said, adding that she has yet to hear back from the agency. More information is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm. Salmon permits soar The value of Alaska salmon permits are soaring in many fisheries. At Bristol Bay drift gillnet permits are being offered at $140,000, compared to $90,000 at the same time last year. A scan of listings by four brokers shows that Prince William Sound seine cards are more than $200,000 — they were in the $140,000 range a year ago. The Sound’s driftnet permits also are selling at more than $200,000. Southeast Alaska seine permits are the priciest at $320,000, up from $250,000 last January. Kodiak seine values continued an upward creep to $50,000 compared to $36,000 on average. Chignik permits are listed in the $225,000 range. At Area M on the Alaska Peninsula drift cards were at $90,000 and seine cards at $65,000, down slightly. Cook Inlet drift permits are being offered at $85,000 or higher, which is $10,000 more than a year ago. Cook Inlet seine cards are listed in the  $65,000 range and setnets at $16,000. Cook Inlet will be the focus of the Board of Fisheries when it takes up 235 proposals at its meeting later this month. Fishery managers have provided a list of frequently asked questions, or FAQs, about managing king salmon on the Kenai River in advance of the meeting. It uses the 2013 season to explain escapement policies, how salmon are counted, king salmon research and more. The Fish Board meets Jan. 31 to Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Sessions will be webcast. Find a link to the FAQs at www.alaskafishradio.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Pinks pushing salmon catch up; Domino's disses halibut

Alaska salmon catches are poised to blow past the pre-season forecast of 179 million fish due to a plug of pinks that is coming in stronger than expected. “We are going to be short on sockeyes by five million or so, and we’re probably not going to make the chum salmon numbers either. So we’ll have to go over with pinks, but at the rate things are going that is entirely possible,” said Geron Bruce, deputy director of Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries division.   As of Aug. 9, the total pink salmon catch had surged to nearly 114 million (the forecast was for 118 million pinks, 73 percent higher than last year) — and catches were still coming on strong. Three regions provide the bulk of Alaska’s pink pack: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. At Southeast, where 15 million humpies were taken in a single week, the catch had reached 43 million and it’s likely to exceed the 54 million forecast. “The next two weeks are typically the peak, so if catches stay at that level, that’s another 30 million pink salmon,” Bruce said. At Prince William Sound, the pink returns were so strong fishermen were put on trip limits due to a lack of tender capacity. Still, they took 10 million pinks in a matter of days and the total PWS catch was approaching 57 million fish (the forecast was just more than 38 million).  Kodiak’s pink catch had topped 9 million out of a 17 million pink forecast with steady catches coming in. Even the Alaska Peninsula was yielding larger catches than usual, topping 5 million pink salmon so far. At a dock price of roughly 45 cents per pound, pinks will really boost the value of Alaska’s total salmon fishery this summer.   “When you’re talking about the volumes in these fisheries, that really drives up the value rapidly,” Bruce said.  For the past couple of years, some salmon runs have peaked and waned early, as with Bristol Bay reds this summer. Bruce cautioned there is a chance that pinks could be following a similar trend. “But if the catches continue to remain high over the next week, we could end up close to 200 million pinks,” he said.  If so, that will break the record pink salmon catch of 161 million taken in 2005. Halibut hate Domino’s Pizza is getting heat from Alaskans for a new national television ad called “Powered by Pizza.” The ill-advised campaign claims pizza is “the food of big ideas” — and in doing so, the ad demeans halibut. The narration says: “At Domino’s we take our job seriously because we know Americans order pizza when they are building, creating and innovating. Without pizza, school projects and music albums might go unfinished…startups unstarted…No one is coming up with a world-changing idea over halibut. No way.”  At the same time, an on-screen actor takes a mouthful of halibut with a plastic fork, and then spits it with a look of disgust on his face!   Alaskans quickly let Domino’s know of their displeasure. Sen. Mark Begich entered the fray telling Domino’s they obviously have never sampled one of Alaska’s iconic fish, and urging them to stop being “a halibut hater.”  Jeanne Devon of The Mudflats blog fame contacted Domino’s and got a quick response from Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications.  “In no way did we intend to disparage the hard working men and women in the fishing industry… It was simply meant to be a bit of humor,” he said, adding that Domino’s was “sincerely sorry for any offense the ad caused.” But …the fish offensive ad is still running nationwide! Well. Domino’s is obviously oblivious to the fact that the adage “fish is brain food” is not just an old wives’ tale. Several studies in Europe and the U.S. have proven, among other things, that pregnant women who eat fish promote brain development in their babies. And elderly people who eat fish at least once a week are less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Now, that’s brain power! A “Team Fish” campaign is gaining steam and urging Alaskans to contact Domino’s with Twitter — using the hash tag “Powered by Halibut” or via Domino’s Facebook page. So far the response to the ad has reportedly been intense — and it is likely to remain so until Domino’s Pizza pulls the attack ad that treats halibut as an inedible food choice. Fish watch There will be even fewer sockeye salmon to meet strong market demand this summer. By now, British Columbia’s Fraser River reds are usually filling orders as the Alaska catch tails off — but dismal returns mean it is likely there won’t even be a Fraser fishery. The lack of reds will push up prices even higher. Alaska longliners have taken 61 percent of the nearly 22 million pound halibut catch limit. For sablefish, the catch tally was at 68 percent of the 28 million pound quota. Southeast Alaska’s Dungeness crab fishery ended Aug. 8, a week earlier than usual. That catch should top 2 million pounds and the dungy fishery will reopen Oct. 1. The year’s first king crab fishery is underway at Norton Sound where 35 small boat crabbers have a half million pound quota. The golden king crab fishery way out along the Aleutian Islands starts Aug. 15 — that harvest will top 6 million pounds. Pollock boats are back out on the water in the Bering Sea; trawlers also are targeting cod, and pot cod opens Sept. 1. In the Gulf, pollock reopens on Aug. 25, mostly around Kodiak. Cod opens for all gears in the Gulf (except jig) on Sept. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaska salmon back on menu for nat'l parks, Walmart

Holy Oncorhynchus! Any doubts about the brand power of Alaska salmon can be put to rest after the high visibility contretemps over the past few weeks — and the fish story has a happy ending. All of Alaska’s “powers that be” converged on Walmart and the National Park Service when both reportedly snubbed Alaska salmon over a labeling issue. Both Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Mark Begich sent letters to Walmart blasting the ill-advised decision, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski verbally (and very publicly) spanked the NPS for not following its own rules. The dust-up stemmed from Alaska’s decision to opt out of a pricey eco-label by the Marine Stewardship Council that since 2006 Walmart has used to guide its purchases of seafood from sustainably managed fisheries. The process is complex and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to an industry or trade group — but a green label has become part of doing seafood business around the globe. The London-based MSC spearheaded the sustainable seafood movement in 1997 and can take credit for setting the standards followed by other groups in the fisheries certifying business. Ironically, Alaska salmon was the MSC’s first “poster fish,” but the state and industry are in the process of transitioning to another fisheries certifier called Global Trust. A routine letter sent to its seafood suppliers whipped things up at Walmart, said Chris Schraeder, senior manager of sustainability communications. “The letter contained a footnote saying that at this point, Alaska salmon did not have an equivalent certification. People interpreted that to mean that Walmart would no longer be purchasing Alaska salmon,” Schraeder said in a phone call from Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters. It is the first time Walmart has found itself in this type of eco-incident, he added, saying that the company commissioned two studies earlier this year to review the standards of other certifiers to make sure the company can deliver on its earth friendly fishing commitment. “What we are really asking is for (Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute), and others who are closely involved in the industry to educate us and give us information so we can make a sound assessment,” Schraeder said. “We are proud to offer Alaska salmon in our stores,” said Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability. “It is important to us because we know it is important to our customers.” Walmart last week invited Alaska to send a team to its headquarters “to educate senior executives and buyers about Alaska’s sustainable fisheries and management practices,” Gov. Parnell said in a press release. Meanwhile, Sen. Murkowski followed up with U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service officials to make sure that Alaska salmon can be on the menus at food outlets at nearly 130 parks and monuments nationwide.   The senator grilled NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and he conceded: “What I am willing to do is change the guidelines so it includes Alaska wild caught fish. I think that’s the simple fix here.” After a meeting with Jarvis Aug. 2, Murkowski said she believes the perspective of NPS officials has been broadened, “not just for Alaska, but for all U.S. fisheries.” “We’ve turned heads in the right direction,” Murkowski said in a quick phone call, as she headed back to Alaska from D.C. for the August break. Salmon sales 2012 A snapshot of salmon sales through 2012 shows some good signs for sockeyes. The Alaska Salmon Price Report by the Department of Revenue Tax Division shows market prices for salmon by species, region and product. Here’s a snapshot of 2012 wholesale prices along with some telling comparisons: The bulk of Alaska’s salmon pack goes to markets frozen whole, headed and gutted. Those values for sockeye salmon continued to slide last year, averaging $2.89 per pound, compared to $3.20 in 2011. That trend already has turned around this year, however — the average price for frozen sockeye salmon ticked up a dime from January through April.  Canned reds jumped to $193 per case of talls, a $23 increase from the previous year. Lower supplies and strong demand should keep an upward press on sockeye sales prices throughout the year. Frozen pink salmon prices took a dip last year averaging $1.29 per pound, down from $1.44. Pink salmon roe prices averaged $10.29 per pound in 2012, an increase of $2.63 per pound and bringing the total value to more than $100 million. Pink salmon roe prices from January through April of this year topped $12 per pound.  Chums followed a similar pattern. Frozen chums averaged $1.38 per pound, a drop of 44 cents from 2011. But chum roe rang in at nearly $17 per pound for a total value of $120 million. And prices of chum salmon roe through April topped $20 per pound.  Happy Birthday, USCG Aug. 4 marked the 223rd birthday of our nation’s oldest sea going service — the U.S. Coast Guard. The USCG 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, and to prevent smuggling. At the time, that was the only source of revenue for the federal government. The Coast Guard was called the Revenue Cutter Service until 1915 when it was merged with the Life-Saving Service and received its present name from Congress. Back then, historians say rescuers would use small cannons to fire a sort of giant clothesline toward the masts of stranded ships. Attached to the line was a bulky pair of canvas pants, which sailors would climb into and be hauled ashore. 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 US Coast Guard. They are credited for saving more than one million lives and counting. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Camera provides undersea views; salmon supplies still tight

If a picture is worth a thousand words, get ready for millions of undersea images — brought to you by a handmade, high definition undersea camera. “Alaska Cam Sled is a towed imaging system that takes a lot of high resolution pictures of the bottom of the ocean,” said Gregg Rosenkranz, a state scallop biometrician based in Kodiak. Rosenkranz and his colleague Rick Shepherd built the cam sled, which lets them experience a live stream of the sea floor while onboard a research vessel. They hail it as a non-invasive way to observe and collect data in real time. “We found out pretty quickly after we started doing this about six or seven years ago that there is a lot of other stuff down there, for example, a lot of Tanner crabs live in the same areas as scallops do.   “I like to think of it as a really stupid robot that does one job really well, and that is to take high resolution photos,” Rosencranz said. “It’s easier and cheaper than a lot of other ways, because it is towed. You’re not sending divers down there for example, who get tired out.” The Alaska Cam Sled will be showcased at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sept. 26-28 in Kodiak. www.aaas.org. Fish cam fast track Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is pressing federal managers for faster action on getting fish cams to monitor catches on small fishing boats. “With today’s advanced technology, (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries Fisheries can figure out an electronic monitoring system that works for small fishing businesses,” Murkowski said in a phone interview. An electronic monitoring system would replace fishery observers now required on halibut longline vessels during fishing trips.  “That is the one thing I’ve heard as I’ve been out walking the docks,” she said. “People take me onto their boats and say where are you going to put an observer on this vessel that has room for three, maybe four?”   Murkowski said it troubles her that a crewmember often gets left behind to accommodate an observer, which affects the efficiency and safety of the fishing trip. She added: “I understand the data is important. I’m just saying we can be smarter in how we collect it.” Salmon scramble A lackluster Alaska salmon fishery combined with shortfalls in farmed fish has buyers struggling to fill orders for US customers.   The statewide salmon catch has topped 81 million, less than half way to the 180 million fish forecast. It will take those hard to predict pink salmon to get us there — state managers anticipate a harvest of nearly 120 million humpies, 73 percent higher than last year.  The pink numbers are adding up fast — already half of the total salmon catch is made up of pinks, mostly from Prince William Sound (26 million). The biggest push is still to come from Southeast Alaska, where a catch of 54 million pinks is predicted this summer. Trade reports say that supplies for wild and farmed salmon are down across the board and prices are increasing for both. Notably, Alaska’s sockeye harvest was disappointing; at the same time, shipments of farmed salmon from Chile are on hold pending FDA inspections for a banned chemical.  ‘But’s up Remember two years ago when people were aghast at halibut individual fishing quota, or IFQ, share prices hitting $30 a pound? It’s gone even higher. A scan of top brokers shows the asking price has reached $50 for some IFQs in Southeast Alaska, with most going for $40 to $43 per pound. Prices for halibut shares in the Central Gulf were ranging from $30 to $38. For sablefish, quota shares in Southeast, were going from $26 to $32; slightly higher at west Yakutat — and in the $20-$30 range in the Central Gulf. Fish bits The year’s first red king crab fishery is underway at Norton Sound, with a half million pound quota. The Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast will end August 8, a week earlier than usual, with a 2.25 million pound projected catch. The golden king crab fishery begins way out along the Aleutians on Aug. 15 where more than 6 million pounds will be hauled up. Pollock boats are fishing in the Bering Sea; pollock reopens in the Gulf on Aug. 25. Comments extended Noting the comment period falls at the height of Alaska’s fishing season, NOAA has extended the public comment period for the proposed halibut catch share plan for commercial and charter operators through Aug. 26. The plan, which will allocate fish between the two sectors in Southeast Alaska and much of Southcentral, is scheduled to be in place next year. For more information go to www.regulations.gov. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Major fisheries management act up for discussion, revision

The rules that govern our nation’s fisheries are being retooled so it’s reassuring that Congress isn’t traveling in uncharted seas. Over 80 percent of Alaska’s fish landings hail come from federally managed waters, and the Magnuson-(Ted) Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA, is the primary law ruling US fisheries. The Act is undergoing reauthorization for the first time in seven years. First enacted in 1976, the MSA “Americanized” the fisheries by booting out foreign fleets to beyond 200 miles from our shores. It created the nation’s eight fishery management councils, and its laws dictate everything from fishing and bycatch quotas, catch shares, observer coverage, habitat protection and so much more. The MSA legislation is now in the lap of the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee, chaired by Alaska Senator Mark Begich. “It’s the big deal – it really does dictate for generations to come the parameters for managing the fishing industry of this country,” Begich said from his DC office after launching MSA “listening sessions” in Kodiak and Fairbanks and next month in Kenai. The sessions are not designed as debates, but to “put things on the table,” he said. “Both the positive and the negative; what’s working and what’s not. So at the end of the day, we can look at it in a broad perspective and determine where and if we need to make modifications,” Begich added.  The main issues he’s heard from Alaskans so far include the lack of mention of subsistence needs in the Act, and the “need for balance” among commercial, sport and subsistence users.  Topping them all, he said, is the need to have fishery decisions driven by good science. “We hear over and over again — make sure decisions continue to be driven by science and not just some political decision, or who has the majority on a board or a commission,” he said. Begich is working with Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the Oceans Committee, to schedule listening sessions in DC and across the country. “We want to make sure that we continue to develop fish policy that is not only good for Alaska, but good for our nation,” he added. Begich expects the MSA to be reauthorized early next year. Send MSA comments to [email protected] Frankenfish fight continues Senators Begich and Murkowski and Rep. Young all have come out strongly against the Food and Drug Administration potentially giving a green light to genetically modified Atlantic salmon. The fish, tweaked to grow three times faster than normal, would be the first modified animal approved for human consumption. No labeling would be required to alert consumers they are purchasing a GMO fish. A ruling by the FDA is expected this fall. “We are working double time to prevent that product from coming to the marketplace,” Begich said. “I met with the White House two weeks ago and expressed concern that the FDA does not know what they are doing. They are going to introduce a product into the marketplace that could damage this country’s seafood industry,” Begich said, adding that at a minimum, the man-made fish needs to be labeled. “It will be guilt by association. We already are hearing grumblings from major Alaska salmon customers in Canada and Europe. We cannot have this as part of this country’s seafood industry,” Begich fumed. He cited a recent bipartisan victory with a Murkowski-sponsored GMO labeling requirement being added to the Agriculture Bill. The measure squeaked by on a 15-14 vote, with Begich putting it over the top. “We are going to keep skinning this cat any way we can,” Begich said. Wal-Mart’s salmon saga The nation’s largest retailer has said it will not sell Alaska seafood if it is not labeled as “sustainably managed” by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council. The MSC spearheaded the sustainable seafood movement in 1997 — showcasing the good management of Alaska’s salmon industry as its first big “certification” success. More recently, the industry has opted out of the MSC program, believing the Alaska brand trumps a high priced eco-logo. “If I ask a consumer, do you want an MSC labeled salmon or wild Alaska salmon, I can guarantee what they will say,” Begich said.  He added: “Name me one other state that has sustainability written into its constitution. We are the role-model and the MSC used Alaska as its shining example of sustainable fishery management. We don’t need to pay high logo and licensing fees to an organization in order to prove something that we already know.”  Salmon sales through April Alaska’s salmon is marketed in several forms — such as fresh or frozen, fillets, roe and in cans.  The State tracks sales by product, price, production and region and reports on it three times a year.  Here’s a snapshot of the January through April 2013 wholesale compared to the same time last year. The bulk of Alaska’s salmon pack goes out frozen, in headed and gutted form. King prices bumped up by 90 cents to nearly $4 per pound through April. Frozen cohos averaged $2.54/pound, a 30-cent increase. Frozen sockeyes slumped below $3 per pound, a drop of 31 cents on half the volume. Chum salmon prices dropped from $2 to $1 per pound on double the sales volume. Prices for frozen sockeye fillets also fell below $6 per pound from January through April, compared to an average $6.25 for the same time last year. Chum fillets dropped by more than a dollar to $3.20 a pound.  Sales of canned sockeye and pink salmon showed steady price increases.  Hold onto your hats for the price gains for Alaska salmon roe! For pink salmon, average wholesale prices approached $12 per pound through April, nearly double last year. Coho roe ticked up from $9.90 to nearly $12 per pound. For chum salmon, the average roe price topped $20 per pound, an increase of five dollars from 2012. Fish watch The statewide salmon catch was nearing 50 million fish out of a 179 million forecast. Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch is likely to total a disappointing 14 million fish after the reds came and went eight days early. Alaska’s first red king crab fishery kicked off at Norton Sound last week with a half million pound quota. Southeast’s Dungeness fishery will close a week earlier on August 8 this summer due to low catches. Halibut longliners have taken more than half of their 22 million pound catch limit; for sablefish, 60 percent of the 28 million pound quota has been landed. The summer pollock fishery has reopened in the Bering Sea, with a total catch this year projected at nearly one billion pounds. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, is searching for a new International Program Director. Deadline to apply is July 22. For more information go to www.alaskaseafood.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon feed prices on the rise; strong chum landings on Yukon

Alaska spends more than $20 million on fish feed each year for its 35 salmon hatcheries — feed that comes primarily from anchovies caught in South America. Meanwhile Alaska seafood processing companies produce over 200,000 tons of fishmeal each year — for customers in Asia. Last year 33 million fish — 20 percent of the total Alaska salmon harvest — originated in hatcheries; in some years the figure has topped 30 percent. At Prince William Sound, for example, 73 percent of the salmon catch originated in local hatcheries. The most costly part of any hatchery or farmed fish business is the feed — it represents 60 to 70 percent of production costs. The bulk of the feed is made from ground up wild fish, such as anchovies, herring or menhaden — which totaled 870 million tons in 2011, valued at $350 billion.  According to Chilean fish feed company Camanchaca, fishmeal prices are set to increase 18 percent this year to $1,750 per ton, an 18 percent increase. Roughly 10 percent of global fish catches go to fishmeal, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO. It takes up to four pounds of wild fishmeal to grow one pound of farmed salmon, and the industry is facing increasing criticism to find other food sources. To the rescue in the search for alternative and sustainable proteins — insects! Tests are showing that all kinds of insects can be an attractive option in the global search for alternative and sustainable proteins. The FAO’s Animal Feed Resources Information System, called Feedipedia, claims that the high crude fat content in black soldier flies provide “high value feedstuff” for both fish and livestock. Silkworms, maggots, mealworms, termites all provide meal nutrients of varying types and degrees. Topping the list for best insect-based fish feed is grasshoppers or locusts (acridids) of any kind. Feeding trials on certain fish species showed that diets in which 25 and 50 per cent of fishmeal was replaced with grasshopper meal produced results as good as the control diet with100 percent fishmeal. All growth parameters measured for the selected fish were higher for the feed containing grasshopper meal than for those fed with conventional feeds. The possibility of recovering chitin from the insects used for fish feed is also being explored. Find the Insects as Animal Feed report at www.thefishsite.com. Dippin’ in the Yukon The first commercial salmon dipnet fishery on the Lower Yukon River is a resounding success. Seafood.com reports that landings by about 90 fishermen are approaching 40,000 chums so far. The use of dipnets is a new regulation passed by the state Board of Fisheries in January as a way to allow a chum fishery while protecting the Yukon’s dwindling numbers of king salmon. Over the past several years, the chum fishery has been held up due to chinook conservation needs. The dip nets allow for the safe return of king salmon into the river; not a single king salmon has been harmed so far. The Yukon chum run is extremely strong this summer and could top three million fish. The dip net fishermen are earning about $5,000 per week in the new fishery. Salmon competition Fresh salmon prices are up 47 percent from a year ago, and imports from Chile are at record levels, according to Urner Barry, the nation’s oldest market watchers since the late 1800s. Imports to the U.S. have approached 80 million pounds of fresh Atlantic salmon fillets, an increase of roughly 21 percent and an all-time record for U.S. salmon imports. Overall, the U.S. salmon market has expanded significantly, with strong demand and prices, although retail prices tend to drop off a bit at this time of year.

Halibut tracking tags need work; cod harvests increasing

June 20, 2013 It’s back to the drawing board for halibut iTags that will soon tell us more about where the fish travel than ever before. The internal tags, which were deployed in 30 halibut two years ago, were the first to test smartphone geomagnetic advances to track the migrations of fish. The tags record magnetic field strength on three axes and have accelerometers and pitch and roll detectors, explained Tim Loher, a biologist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “Without being able to tell whether or not your tag is horizontal, you can’t really get the axis of the magnetism. The invention of the iPhone pointed the way to make the pitch and roll detectors small enough to put in fish tags,” he said. The geomagnetic tags, which can record data every 30 seconds for seven years, are designed to give real time, daily positions on halibut and track them without any need for light, acoustics or communication with GPS satellites — all the information will be onboard when the fishermen catch them. But in the field tests, magnetism was the gut tags’ undoing. “The tags had some metal components inside them that were actually picking up magnetic charges and screwing up the calibrations,” Loher said. He added that a new metal-free version of the tags already has been developed, and will be deployed in Glacier Bay halibut later this summer by project associate Julie Nielsen, a graduate student at University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Juneau. Within a couple of years, the IPHC team plans to tag 1,000 or more halibut from Oregon to Attu. “We’ve got a lot of migration issues and we are trying to set our quotas and determine exactly how to assess the stock,” Loher said. “We know the halibut are moving but we are having trouble getting refined estimates of movement by size, age and regulatory area, so hopefully this will help nail that down. It’s going to be a really powerful experiment..” The IPHC will pay a $500 reward for the return of any geomagnetic tags (which are accompanied by external wire tags). Rewards ranging from $50-$200 also are paid for returns of halibut containing darts or wire tags. (Learn more at www.iphc.washington.edu)  Profiler payouts Water column profilers that provide ocean data are still sitting on the ocean floor and scientists hope to get them back. The profilers, purchased by the IPHC with a half-million dollar grant from NOAA Fisheries, were deployed four years ago at more than 1,200 halibut survey stations between Oregon and the Bering Sea. They measure salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll content, and the data is shared with many users. One profiler was lost off the east side of Kodiak; another disappeared on the south side of Adak. The 60 pound profilers are housed in a steel cage and could be snagged on the bottom or detected with depth sounders. “Particularly the one that is off Kodiak Island,” said Bruce Leaman, IPHC executive director. “It doesn’t have the floats on top but it’s sitting on hard bottom and you would get a little bit of a bump in there. The one that is off Adak Island, you can actually see the floats on your echo sounder if you’re going by.” The IPHC will pay a $1,500 reward for the return of the profilers. “We hope the money is incentive enough so people will actually go looking for them,” Leaman said. “It’s a small thing in a large area but we have some fairly precise location information and we would dearly like to get them back because they have important data, plus they are reusable and are durable pieces of equipment.” Daily salmon tracker You can now track Alaska salmon catches by region and species on a daily basis with Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s popular Blue Sheet. Starting this season, salmon managers made the change from weekly to daily catch updates from mid-May through September. A glance at the Blue Sheet through Monday showed that the total salmon catch had topped two million fish, most coming from the Copper River/Prince William Sound region; the remainder from the westward region. Along with the daily blue sheet, ADF&G also provides a weekly in-season summary that graphs the progression of commercial salmon harvests and compares it with the five-year averages. More cod coming The global cod glut is likely to continue into 2014 as quotas are expected to increase again in Norway, Russia and Iceland. Market expert John Sackton said the Barents Sea cod catch could increase to 993,000 metric tons. That is seen as a peak, based on the age structure of the stock, but when declines begin in 2015 they are not expected to be significant, Sackton said. Iceland has announced another increase in its cod quota to 215,000 tons next year, up 10 percent. Researchers said Iceland’s cod spawning stock is the largest since the early 1960s. In Alaska, Pacific cod accounts for 11 percent of total fish landings. Harvest levels from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska were set at about 320,000 tons this year and are not expected to change much in 2014. Unlike Alaska crab or wild salmon, cod has no special brand and is lumped in as a “whitefish” commodity. A portion of the Alaska cod pack goes to U.S. markets as fillets, but most goes to China for reprocessing. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Aleutian golden crab looks strong; Steller sea lions on upswing

Amidst the salmon fisheries starting up all across the state, several Alaska crab seasons also get underway each summer. In mid-June, the summer Dungeness crab fishery opens in the Panhandle, as does red king crab at Norton Sound. Those are followed in August by golden kings along the far-flung Aleutian Islands, which might soon take the title as Alaska’s largest king crab fishery. Unlike other Bering Sea crab stocks, surveys on golden kings have been limited due to distance and high costs. The deep water stocks have sustained a fishery for 30 years, but managers aren’t sure about what’s really going on down there. The golden crab catch has been limited with a conservative six million pound cap, and crabbers have long believed that the harvest could be higher — but the lack of research left too many questions about the overall abundance of the resource until now. An experiment by the crab fleet and researchers has revealed that golden king crab stocks around the Aleutian Islands are not only stable, they are thriving. “The fleet has over the years changed the pot mesh size to allow little crabs to escape. That’s great fishing practice, but unfortunately, it is not great scientific information. Managers have been concerned as to whether there is any recruitment of small golden crab into the population,” said Denby Lloyd, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, formed by the harvesting vessels. In the experiment, pots with small mesh designed to not let the little ones go, were put down next to strings of regular gear during the commercial fishery. (Golden king crab pots are strung together with long lines to prevent them from getting lost in the region’s massive underwater mountain ranges.) The results were very clear, Lloyd said.  “The regular pots caught good numbers of legal sized crab but not many sub-legals. But the paired research pots right next to them caught as many or more legal crab and very large numbers of smaller crab,” he said. Research will be ongoing and fishery managers will use the data in stock assessment modeling. The end result could be a new king of the crab hill. “With this level of productivity,” Lloyd said, “potentially those quotas will increase for golden king crab, we might be in competition with Bristol Bay for Alaska’s largest king crab harvest.” The Aleutian Island crab fleet also is helping with ocean acidification and handling studies. Lloyd had high praise for the collaboration: “Having the industry be this enthusiastic and having the agencies open up to immediate cooperative research opportunities like this, it’s really fun stuff. Steller upticks There is “strong evidence” that the numbers for both western and eastern populations of Alaska’s Steller sea lions appear to be, by and large, on an upward trajectory. That’s according to a May 15 technical memorandum by researchers at the Seattle-based Alaska Fisheries Science Center, which summarizes results of air and ship-based sea lion surveys from 2000 to 2012.   The upticks are good news. Since the late 1990s many Alaska fisheries have been restricted in regions where numbers of sea lions have been dwindling for decades, notably, in Central Gulf and areas farther west. The AFSC memo said that while the western Aleutian stocks still appear uncertain, numbers increased in the eastern and western Gulf of Alaska, and the eastern Aleutians. If those counts continue to tick up through 2015, some Steller stocks could be on track toward a down listing from “endangered” to “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act. Conversely, in Southeast Alaska sea lion numbers remain on an increase, a trend since the 1970s. The surveys showed at least 1,600 sea lions moving from the central gulf to Southeast during breeding season, the memo said. www.afsc.noaa.gov Frankenbreed Studies from Canada show that genetically modified salmon can cross breed with a close relative: brown trout, and produce an even faster growing hybrid. Researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland said the study highlights the ecological consequences should so called Frankenfish get into the wild. Ronald Stotish of Aqua Bounty, the Massachusetts and Panama-based company creating the GMO salmon, insists the risk of it breeding in the wild is “negligible.” The application calls for land-based, contained cultivation of all sterile female populations that will be reared only in FDA inspected facilities,” he said. The Food and Drug Administration will announce in a few months if it approves GMO salmon for human consumption. Congress is still debating whether the GMO fish will be labeled to alert American consumers. Speaking of labels … Should the government have a role in certifying sustainable seafood? The Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, an advisor to the Secretary of Commerce, wants feedback “on the benefits and limitations of third party seafood certifications, and the potential for a federal government role.” Having a fishery certified as being well managed for sustainability has become a necessary part of global seafood commerce. Find a link to the MAFAC survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/TZZHNZB Questions? Contact Keith Rizzardi [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Murkowski wants to see labels on GMO, plan from Pebble

Salmon setnet families were streaming out of Kodiak all week, heading to their summer sites to get ready for the June 9 season opener. Their departure wrapped up a busy week of Memorial Day festivities on “the rock,” including festivals, fleet blessings, a landslide on Cannery Row and visits by both of Alaska’s U.S. Senators. I caught up with Sen. Lisa Murkowski over a beer at Kodiak Island Brewery. She spoke candidly on several hot-button fisheries topics. It’s well known that Murkowski and the rest of Alaska’s Congressional delegation are strongly opposed to genetically modified salmon (aka Frankenfish), and have led the charge to derail its approval for dinner plates by the FDA. The “AquaAdvantage” salmon, tweaked to grow three times faster than normal, would be the first animal approved for human consumption. The public comment period recently closed on the issue, and Murkowski said the FDA decision should be announced “in seven months or so.” Should Frankenfish get government approval, it will require no labeling to alert consumers they are buying a man-made salmon instead of the real thing. The GMO process is categorized under “veterinary procedures” and as such, no labeling is needed. Last week, Murkowski was the only Republican to vote for GMO labeling requirements at a Senate hearing; the measure failed to pass by a wide margin. The U.S. is one of the few nations in the world that has not either banned GMO foods outright, or requires labeling. “What does that say to the American people, at a time when they clearly are concerned about food safety and what they are putting into their mouths?”  I asked. “It says we don’t think it’s important for Americans to know,” she retorted, adding that the thumbs down by the Senate is “not a final straw.” Murkowski said she is extremely concerned that the U.S.’s lack of GMO labeling will be met with backlash by world commerce. “Most of Europe says no to GMOs, so if we continue to have this attitude we will lose those markets,” she said. Murkowski revealed that people at recent Arctic summit meetings were “shocked” to learn that the U.S. is so slipshod about GMO products. “Especially those from Norway. They told me straight out ‘we will not buy any U.S. salmon if we are not sure it is not GMO,” she said. “It will crush our wild salmon market.” “Speaking of wild salmon,” I quickly interjected. “Senator, are you ready to take a stand on the threat posed to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery by the proposed Pebble Mine? Alaskans are waiting to hear more than the stock response of ‘they must be allowed to go through the process.’” She responded: “As a policy maker who spends most of my days saying there is a process we need to follow, I have a tough time telling the State to chop it off at the knees. But I’ll tell you one thing — Pebble isn’t doing itself any favors by not giving more definition to its plans. They have documents to the moon, but no images or mine plans. The best thing Pebble could do is lay it on the table so we have something real to deal with. “As an Alaskan, I don’t like how this has pitted neighbor against neighbor, town against town, Native against Native. The longer it’s delayed, the worse it gets. We’ve got enough issues facing us, and if we are not working together, it will be tough to get anything accomplished.”  Fish watch Copper River fishermen were slamming the reds – after three openers the catch topped a half million sockeyes, twice what was expected. Conversely, the king salmon harvest of around 6,000 fish was disappointing. Prices started out at $4 per pound for sockeye and dropped to $2.50 most recently; the price for kings had increased from $6 to $7 per pound. Southeast trollers are back out on the water for spring kings. They wrapped up a slow winter season at the end of April, but king prices were higher than ever, averaging $10 per pound in the last months of the fishery.  Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak wrapped up last week with a catch just shy of the 30,000-ton quota, the best harvest in 20 years. Overall, 56,000 tons of herring were harvested along the coast from San Francisco to Togiak, nearly 20 percent more than in 2012. Poised to take off is the herring fishery at Norton Sound, where Icicle Seafoods has four tenders on the grounds for an 800-ton catch. Payouts there are posted on a sliding scale ranging from $100 to $450 per ton, depending on roe counts. Norton Sound also just wrapped up its best ever winter king crab fishery. The catch of nearly 20,000 red king crab was twice the previous record set in 1978. The 25 fishermen also got a record $6.67 per pound for the crabs that they catch through holes in the ice. Norton Sound crabbers will begin a half million pound summer king crab fishery in mid-June. Southeast Alaska’s summer Dungeness crab fishery kicks off in mid-June, and the Bering Sea pollock fishery reopens for the summer season on June 10. Alaska longliners by late May had landed just more than 7 million pounds of halibut out of the 22 million pound catch limit. Kodiak prices were all over, most recently at $4.50 to $5.00 per pound, with prices starting at $5.40 per pound for 10- to 20-pound fish reported at Seward. For sablefish, the catch had topped 11 million pounds out of a 28 million pound quota. Those prices continue to drop in Kodiak to $3 to $5 per pound depending on fish size. Watershed assessment comment period extended Public comment on the EPA’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment has been extended through June 30. The assessment is available at ww2.epa.gov/bristolbay. 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.  

Fishermen receive some of value-added price increase

It takes quite a crew to get an Alaska salmon from “boat to throat,” and everyone along the line gets a cut of the catch. How that “value chain” has paid out in the past few years shows some nice gains for Alaska fishermen and processors. “We often get asked what share the fisherman retains, and how much each segment of the supply chain gets for salmon. The answer depends on the species, and the product you are talking about, and what gear type,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Juneau who compiled a report for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Wink’s report tracks and compares salmon ex-vessel (dock price) payouts from 2008 to 2011 for fishermen and first wholesale value for processors, which typically is defined as the value of the product as it leaves Alaska.   The chain illustrates three examples, showing values from high to low returns for fishermen, with troll-caught kings topping the list. “In this case, the harvester bleeds and dresses the fish and adds most of the value before delivery. The processor basically just holds and ships out the fish, and acts as more of a distributor,” Wink explained.  For that reason, the chinook fisherman gets a higher return; 40 percent of the final retail value in that four-year time frame. The value chain for sockeye fillets follows a very different pattern. “In this example, the processors are taking on fish in the round, filleting them, packaging and freezing, they’ve got a lot more labor and capital expended. It’s the processors who are adding more value, and for that reason they get a larger share,” he explained.   Canned salmon follows a similar pattern in terms processors adding value to the raw product, he added. Comparisons from 2008 show nice gains throughout the salmon value chain, and the trend is likely to continue. “The share of the first wholesale value paid to fishermen has increased, and we attribute that to higher prices for salmon in general,” Wink said. “If salmon prices are higher at the wholesale level, processors are going to have more funds to compete for fish. And that’s what we see going on here.” Forecasts call for less sockeye salmon, meaning, “there might not be enough to go around,” which could boost those prices. And despite a big rebound by farmed fish from Chile, Wink said Alaska wild salmon prices are holding strong. “There has been some weakness in the frozen pink and chum market recently, but besides that, it’s been pretty good going. All the work Alaska has done since the start of new millennium is starting to pay off to keep our market share,” he said. In another sign of how times have changed, Alaska sockeye exports to Japan were down 72 percent last year. Not long ago, nearly all of Alaska’s red salmon went to that one country. Chile has taken a lot of market share within Japan, but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of demand for sockeye from the U.S. market and the European market as well, Wink said.  New rules for hired skippers The practice of hiring skippers to fish for other people’s quota shares is set to undergo some big changes. In April 2012, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a plan to limit the use of hired skippers who fish quota shares initially allocated to others when the IFQ plan began in 1995.  When the halibut and sablefish quota share program hit the water, federal managers envisioned a primarily owner-operated fleet that would reduce pressure on the resource, and provide entry-level opportunities for coastal Alaskans. But in the last 20 years, the number of hired skippers has surged from eight percent to 50 percent. Many of the absentee quota owners have been charging them high “rents” for their fish; that’s cut into crew wages and inflated the costs for quota shares.    A proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register that would bar an initial quota share recipient from using a hired skipper to harvest any halibut or sablefish shares acquired after a cutoff date of Feb. 12, 2010. Comments on the new rule are being accepted by NOAA Fisheries through May 28 via the federal site at www.regulations.gov.

Exchange rates make 2013 a mixed year for seafood exports

Between 60 and 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported to customers around the globe, and the strength of foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar plays a big role in annual sales. Tracking by the Juneau-based McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute shows mid-year ups and downs for Alaska’s biggest seafood buyers. On the down side: The Japanese yen has taken a 20 percent drop versus the dollar this year – not good for Alaska seafood exporters. Japan is a leading buyer of salmon roe, pollock roe, surimi, sablefish (black cod), and crab. Likewise, the British pound has weakened by roughly 6 percent since the beginning of the year; the U.K. is Alaska’s biggest buyer of canned sockeye salmon. On the up side: Europe is Alaska’s largest export market for frozen pollock, cod, salmon and surimi. The Euro, the currency used by 23 countries, is trading at about the same value versus the dollar as it was at this time last year. Last summer the Euro was really weak, so this year could be better for exporters selling to the Euro zones. Exchange rates between the Chilean peso and the U.S. dollar impact trade prices for farmed salmon in the U.S., which in turn affects demand for wild, Alaska salmon — especially fresh and frozen pinks and chums. The peso is currently very strong versus the dollar — that’s good for Alaska, the report says, because it makes the price of imported Chilean salmon more expensive from an American point of view. Supply and demand also plays strongly into the import/export equations. For wild salmon, total harvests from major producers (Alaska, Russia, Japan, the Pacific Northwest) are likely to increase 8 percent to 20 percent over last year, meaning a supply between 2.16 billion to 2.38 billion pounds, similar to 2011. Alaska’s salmon harvest forecast this year is for 179 million fish, or roughly 820 million pounds. The Russian prediction calls for a catch of at least 727 million pounds, but the actual volume will likely be much higher, possibly topping 1 billion pounds. Odd-numbered years usually have produced larger pink salmon harvests in both Alaska and Russia. Japan is a major chum salmon producer (mostly from hatcheries), accounting for over three-quarters of Japan’s total salmon harvest. The country typically produced 450 million pounds of chum salmon or more each year, but poundage has declined in recent years, especially following the March 2011 tsunami. Increasing chum salmon production is expected to take several years due to the damage sustained by hatcheries from that horrific event. Roe rallies Salmon roe might not be an American favorite, but it’s a highly valued delicacy elsewhere. The main sources of salmon roe are pink, chum and sockeye, in that order. This year roe production is projected to total 27 million pounds, a big increase from the five-year average of 23 million pounds. Pink salmon usually provide more than half of Alaska’s total salmon roe haul and this summer nearly 15 million pounds of pink roe is projected, 54 percent of the total. Chum salmon are the second largest source of roe, producing a quarter of the Alaska pack. Chum roe is the highest valued, and about 7.5 million pounds should come out of the 2013 catch. For sockeye, the 34-million-fish projection should yield a modest 4.7 million pounds of roe. Salmon roe follows different market trends than other Alaska salmon products. According to fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp, that’s because roe wholesales into different end markets, and it faces very little competition from farmed salmon. Looking at sales trends: all Alaska salmon roe prices surged from Sept. through December last year. For pink roe, over 5.5 million pounds fetched nearly $12 per pound, compared to less than $8 on average for all of 2011. For chums, over 3.2 million pounds was sold at $18.76 per pound, an increase of $5 dollars per pound from the previous year. For sockeye 1.6 million pounds was valued at $8.97, up more than $2. In all, Alaska salmon roe had a first wholesale value of nearly $200 million in 2011; the sales totals for 2012 will be released by the state Department of Revenue’s Tax Division in early July. Got cod? Take it from the freezer, put it in the oven and in a half hour you will have a cod dinner for four, complete with your choice of Thai Curry, Tuscan and Chipotle Lime, Garlic Pesto, Teriyaki Ginger, Southwest Mesquite, Asian Stir Fry and Morney White Sauce. The new product was recently launched by Alaskan Leader Seafoods, or ALS, from its fleet of hook and line catcher processors. “We are very proud of this. It’s a big deal for an Alaska company,” said Keith Singleton, vice president of marketing for ALS. “We are partnered up and rolling it out with DuPont Corporation and Multi-Vac. We are the first U.S. company they have chosen to put seafood into one of their packaging pouches.” “Blazing your packaging with Made in Alaska or product of the USA is a big deal right now. It’s definitely on the forefront of people’s thoughts when they are shopping, as well as sustainability,” he added. “Our success is the fishermen’s success. If we do well, we can get the prices up and it will help the fishermen at the dock.”

Salmon season ready to open with Copper River celebrations

It might still feel like winter but Alaska’s 2013 salmon season will officially get under way on May 16, when the first runs of reds and kings are scheduled to arrive at Copper River.  The season’s first fish will attract the usual media hoopla – helicopters whisking salmon from the fishing grounds to waiting planes, ready to fly them to eager restaurateurs and retailers in Seattle and other regions. New among the salmon groupies will be two Texas chefs who will fish for Copper River salmon themselves, then stop at the Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau before heading home to host a VIP dinner featuring the salmon/beer duo. The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association and Alaskan Brewing Co. partnered to bring two famous Alaska products to the Lone Star state. Copper River’s projected catch of 1.3 million sockeye and 19,800 Chinook this summer will be part of an Alaska season total pegged at 179 million salmon, 30 percent higher than the 2012 harvest. Pushing this year’s higher forecast is a bumper run of pink salmon that could yield a 73 percent higher take of 118 million fish. The projected catch breakdown for other salmon species is 34.3 million sockeye, down 1 percent; for coho salmon, a slightly higher catch of 3.9 million, and a chum catch of 23 million, a 1 percent increase. Find all the salmon projections for this year at www.alaskafishradio.com. Capital fish When Alaskans think of Juneau they don’t usually think of commercial fishing, but in fact, the seafood industry is the largest private employer in the capital city.  Juneau is home to 800 fishermen, 330 fishing vessels and four seafood processors. Last year nearly 18 million pounds of seafood were landed in the city, valued at $28 million. On the national scene, Juneau is ranked 43rd of U.S. ports for volume of fish landings, and 39th for value. “The fishing industry, apart from our processors, is lots of individual, small businesses. If you compare it to mining, which is something Juneau is well known for; we have more employment in the seafood industry than we do in the mining sector. So it is very important in our community,” said Brian Holst, director of the Juneau Economic Development Council. That message will be spotlighted at Juneau’s 4th annual Maritime Festival on May 19, a celebration to remind people that they are connected to the ocean. (May is National Maritime Month.) The day begins with First Alaskans arriving from Douglas in their canoes followed by a traditional welcome and dancing. Seafood samples, donated by local processors, are dished out all day and Holst said that inspired one of the Festival’s most popular events – a filleting contest using rockfish and salmon. “As they were serving up the free samples, we were all mesmerized by the folks that were demonstrating their skill in filleting. So we found some rules from elsewhere and we had a wonderful event last year,” he said. Winning filleters get an iPad. People also line up for fishing vessel tours, Holst said, and for many it’s a first-time experience on a working vessel. “And that’s why we know it is very valuable. People see these things but they are off in the water, and if you are not directly involved, it’s easy to not really appreciate all that goes into a small fishing business,” Holst said. The line-up of May 19 events is available at www.juneaumaritimefestival.org. Fish funds Three Alaska groups merited grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or NFWF, as part of its Fisheries Innovation Fund. The program began in 2010 with a goal of sustaining fishermen while rebuilding fish stocks, and funds related projects across the country. Among the 15 award recipients are: $55,000 to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, for a project on halibut discard mortality. AMCC will conduct an industry-driven conservation initiative to reduce mortality of discarded, sport-caught halibut in Southeast and Southcentral fisheries. The project will promote and facilitate best practices for careful release of the fish. The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association received $110,000 for a project that will test GPS data loggers as a low-cost alternative to vessel monitoring systems in halibut and sablefish fisheries. The North Pacific Fisheries Association was awarded $127,400 to test electronic monitoring on small fixed-gear cod boats in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska. The project also will compare costs of electronic monitoring versus onboard observers in the fishery. Fish watch As of May 3, boats and tenders were waiting for the fish to arrive at the Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay. Kodiak fishermen had passed the halfway mark for their 5,600-ton roe herring quota. Final tallies at Sitka showed the herring fleet took less than half of the 11,000-ton quota. The herring were robust with 13 percent roe averages; advance price at Sitka was reported at $500 per ton. Halibut longliners have been on the water for over a month with catches at less than 4 million pounds out of the 22 million pound catch limit.

Catch shares part of plan to reduce Gulf of Alaska bycatch

Fishing industry stakeholders and federal managers in June will begin crafting a bycatch reduction plan for trawl groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. It will include some form of catch share plan, and as the main delivery port for more than $100 million worth of pollock, cod, flats and other fishes, Kodiak is closely guarding any giveaways. It’s similar to a chess game, said Duncan Fields, a lifelong Kodiak fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council charged with designing the new plan. “You have multiple moving pieces and every time you move a piece, it impacts all other pieces on the board,” Fields explained at a recent panel discussion in Kodiak. “You have your queen and your king — those might be your primary policy goals — but if you can get that pawn to the other end of the board, that becomes a queen. Sometimes the little components of a catch share or rationalization program can become equally as important as the big parts.” “The big question is how you win, collectively, as a community,” he added. “That revolves around defining the goals and objectives early on. At the cusp of developing a program for the Gulf of Alaska, we have to appreciate the long term nature of the decisions we may make.” Fields said he believes mirroring catch share modes being used so far in Alaska (halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab fisheries) “will not bring a good result to the Gulf.” Any new plan must be very inclusive, said Nicole Kimball, the State of Alaska’s federal fisheries advisor. “We need to recognize the interests and investments and the dependence of all sectors, so there shouldn’t just be a vessel-based program or one just focused on processor interests or the community. It needs to be all three,” Kimball said. In addition to bycatch reduction, the State wants the new plan to limit consolidation. “It’s understood that can have a very negative effect on community stability and employment opportunities in fishing, processing and all the support industries,” she added. Kimball said she is “constantly hearing” that the groundfish program needs to have improved monitoring and reporting, and it should also keep tabs on social and economic impacts of the management shift. “The Council has embarked on a collection project to get baseline data on those kinds of questions that don’t get asked on fish tickets, or from eLandings,” she said. The loudest and clearest message Kodiak had for Kimball was that any new program should not include permanent groundfish giveaways. She said the Council will explore many kinds of limited duration and allocative quotas, some never tried before. “We are looking at the ability to allocate quotas for a limited duration, and reallocate it after some period of time based on a vessel’s performance in achieving the objective, which is reducing bycatch,” she said. “No one has ever done this, it is uncharted territory, but everyone has talked about it. And so now we are going to take a serious look at it.” Catch shares: A 7-step program Like it or not, catch share programs are a preferred tool for federal fishery managers. (In Alaska, 80 percent of all seafood landings hail from federal waters, from three to 200 miles offshore.) For any fishing town, seven topics should drive the discussions for the new rules that will change local fisheries forever. Here is a sampler from a “nuts and bolts” list compiled by Duncan Fields, specific to Gulf groundfish: 1. Who gets the fish and why. Vessel owners only? Directed species or bycatch species only?  Would you distribute only by history? If so why or why not? 2. What kind of access right would be given to the fishery resource. Would access only be through co-ops? Would any open access fisheries be preserved as a way to address entry-level issues? How will consolidation be limited or restricted. What about caps and leasing and transfer issues? Would the number of vessels be reduced? Would there be a qualification based on vessel ownership, and for experience or active participation. 3. Who gets to process the fish and why. 4. Community interests — what do we protect: infrastructure, jobs, volume, taxes, local businesses, residency, new community opportunities. 5. How do we motivate and integrate gear conversions? As stewards of the resource, we have a responsibility to also think about habitat protections.    6. How will this new fishing program change current practices and the industry relationships built over time, between fishermen and their crews or processors and fishermen. 7. What is the mechanism for programmatic review and change? “These programs are all about tradeoffs,” Fields said. “It is all about making policy decisions on what is possible within the overall structure of the program.” Downsizing drift fleet? Should Alaska’s largest salmon fleet look into downsizing? That’s the question fishermen are posing in an informal buyback poll mailed to Bristol Bay’s 1,800+ driftnet permit holders. “We are not promoting it. We are wondering if it would be a good deployment of some of our time and effort — to learn more about it and how it might apply to the specifics of our fishery,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. A permit buyback would retire 300 to 500 boats from the Bay fishery. That would bring things closer in line with the “optimum number” of between 800 to 1,200 declared nearly a decade ago by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “There’s no deadline. This isn’t a vote it is just an expression of interest. No one is approving us moving into an advocacy position on this. We are simply looking into it and seeing how it might work in the Bay,” he said.

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