Laine Welch

BBNA lands job training grant; U.S. oceans No. 26 in new survey

Jobs are being put on the fast track in Bristol Bay, with a focus on careers that go hand-in-hand with the region’s culture and economy: commercial fishing and seafood processing. “The fishery is our largest industry; it’s the backbone of the economy here,” said Patty Heyano, Program Development Director for the Bristol Bay Native Association in Dillingham. “So it made a whole lot of sense to concentrate on that. It seemed like we could make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time because the industry is already here.” Heyano is referring to a $405,000 Rural Development grant that BBNA has received from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture. In collaboration with the Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center, the money will help ramp up industry related training programs. “The Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge can be summed up to say job accelerator,” said Larry Yerich, Public Information Coordinator at the USDA Rural Development office in Anchorage. BBNA was one of just 13 out of 62 applicants nationwide to win a Challenge grant, which allow recipients to craft programs designed to fill the needs of their own regions. It is also the first award of its type in Alaska. “The first one in Alaska, and the first in the nation to a Native organization,” Heyano noted proudly. The grant will be used to develop curricula and a cluster of training and certification programs at the Voc/Ed Center focused on two tracks: helping more people enter the region’s fisheries or start small fish processing operations. “They will teach a wide range of things fishermen need – navigation, boat maintenance, engine repair … and then there’s things like compliance with management and US Coast Guard regulations,” Heyano said, adding that the program will also help existing fishermen with their operations. BBEDC also has a salmon permit loan program and training will help people meet the requirements for loans. The grant money also will enable instructors to be based in the Bristol Bay region. “They have a state of the art facility for training, but they don’t have instructors and their own curriculum. Other training programs bring their programs to SAVEC,” explained Heyano. Developing the curricula and training clusters for the jobs accelerator program will begin this fall, she said, and it should be up and running by next year. “They didn’t call it a challenge for nothing, because implementing this program is going to be a big challenge,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be great because with SAVEC being located here in the region, they are in a really good position to be responsive to the needs of the people.” Ocean Index The world’s oceans get a grade of 60 out of 100 according to new Ocean Health Index, or OHI. The mediocre grate indicates we are not “managing our use of the oceans in an optimal way,” according to index creators at Conservation International, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on “a healthy and productive planet and smarter paths to development.” Its members include a who’s who of planet advocates such as National Geographic. The OHI “provides for the first time a comprehensive, science based measurement of what’s happening in our oceans and a global platform from which to evaluate the implications of human action or inaction,” said Dr. Greg Stone, a co-author of the paper in Nature. The index evaluates the health of the oceans adjacent to 171 countries and territories out to 200 miles. The rankings are based on an average of 10 ecological, social and economic “goals” such as fishing opportunities, clean water and coastal protection. The U.S. ranked No. 26 with an OHI of 63. Positive upward trends for U.S. oceans were providing a “sense of place,” food provision, natural products and local fishing opportunities. Trending down in U.S. oceans were carbon storage, biodiversity, clean waters, coastal protection and coastal livelihoods and economies. Coming in at No. 1 with an index of 86 was uninhabited Jarvis Island in the South Pacific. Germany ranked No. 4, the Netherlands and Canada both came in at No. 9, Japan at No. 11 and Australia ranked No. 14 for the health of oceans off its coasts. The statewide salmon catch topped 107 million fish by Aug. 17 (up by 16 million fish from last week) on its way to a preseason forecast of 132 million salmon. Pink catches will tell the tale – they were nearing 55 million (a weekly increase of 16 million fish); a catch of 70 million is projected. Other tallies: 217,000 kings, 15.7 million chums, 1.4 million coho and 35 million sockeye. Golf fights hunger America’s food banks were the big winners in the annual Ocean Beauty Benefit Golf Tournament, which raised $10,000 last week to help feed hungry families. The money goes directly to SeaShare, which has linked the seafood industry and suppliers to food banks across the country since 1994. Through SeaShare the seafood industry has become one of the largest private sources of protein for hunger relief in the nation.

State seeks input on how marine trades are faring

With 82 percent of Alaska’s communities unreachable by roads, water is the way to go. Businesses that serve the marine industry, including ports and harbors, are a lifeline for coastal communities. State economic specialists want to highlight the importance of the marine trade sector, and the jobs it provides, which are often overlooked. In March they launched an online Business Retention and Expansion questionnaire hoping to get feedback from coastal residents on how their marine businesses are faring. “Ship building and repair businesses, all modes of transportation, marine vendors, such as welders or automotive folks, marine construction people, anyone dealing with logistics or fuel, harbormasters and the infrastructure associated with that, and marine professional services we forget about such as engineers, banks, insurance companies, and seafood processors,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, a specialist with the Division of Economic Development. The goal is to identify immediate problems challenging businesses as well as future opportunities. Deadline to participate in the brief online survey is Aug. 15th. Results will be released in September. Skins state side! Salmon skins have finally made it to the U.S. in a line of clothing and accessories set to make the fashion scene this fall. Los Angeles designer Lindsay Long features the salmon leather on jackets and cuffs, bracelets, belts, yokes and collars on dresses. “It is a very interesting textile and it’s a good eco-friendly, sustainable alternative to other exotic skins, like snakes and things like that,” Long told KMXT. She said it’s still rare in the US, but the supple, durable salmon leathers are used widely in Europe as upholstery in luxury cars, yachts and jets, as well as in the high fashion world. “Givenchy has used it on this killer pair of shoes I would love to wear,” Long said. “But other than that it’s new to the US. It’s kind of a cross over material – branching its way out into different industries. So we are the first that we know to be using it on the whole range – jackets, dresses, belts and everything like that. The salmon skins come from an organic fish farm in Ireland; they are tanned and sold by a German company called Nanai, which recently opened an office in LA. The company, reportedly wants to source more salmon skins state-side. “They researched an ancient tanning method that uses no harsh metals or chemicals and creates these beautiful, colorful pieces of leather. I just couldn’t resist,” Long said. See Long’s $88 salmon belts at Salmon surge Alaska’s wild salmon harvest was nearing 60 million fish by July 27, increasing by 18 million salmon in just two weeks. Here’s the statewide tally: Chinook: 198,000; sockeye: 33.7 million (nearly 21 million from Bristol Bay); coho: 536,000; chum: 11 million; pink: 13.1 million. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Bristol Bay salmon surge; Gov seeks disaster declaration

The red salmon catch at Bristol Bay is on its way to 20 million fish and will very likely go higher, due to a strong run of more than 30 million fish. The reds were still surging into the region’s five big rivers and should serve to boost the harvest beyond the forecast of nearly 22 million fish. With all the salmon fisheries going on every summer all across Alaska, you might wonder why so much attention is focused on Bristol Bay? The answer can be summed up in two words: sockeye salmon. Bristol Bay’s rivers are home to the largest red salmon runs in the world. Sockeye is by far Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery — and well more than one third (sometimes as much as half!) — of the state’s total salmon fishing earnings come from Bristol Bay. The Bay also has the most fishermen, with more than 2,800 salmon permit holders. Whereas other fishing regions like Copper River, Prince William Sound, Southeast, Kodiak, Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula might get sockeye catches ranging from 1 million to 5 million fish, Bristol Bay’s harvests typically fall into the 20 million to 40 million range. Here’s how it stacks up in terms of value, based on the 2011 season: Last year’s ex-vessel (dockside) value of Alaska’s total salmon catch last year was $603 million, the third-best ever. Chinook salmon (kings) rang in at just more than $20 million; cohos (silvers) were worth $23.4 million; and chums topped $93 million at the Alaska docks. The pink salmon catch had a value of just more than $170 million. Here’s the biggie: Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch was worth $296 million at the Alaska docks last year, on a catch of nearly 40 million fish. More than half of the sockeyes came from Bristol Bay. Help for kings and ports King salmon returns are so low to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, almost no fishing is being allowed for anything, even for subsistence purposes. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich last week asked Gov. Sean Parnell to declare a fisheries disaster in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, including the interior region of the Yukon River watershed. By doing so, it will allow Begich to pursue federal help, such as happened during a similar salmon situation in 2009. Begich told Parnell in a July 9 letter that in visits to the region this month, he saw firsthand the hardship endured by residents from the lack of salmon, especially combined with the high costs of energy and other goods and services. “Because of the area that these fish are in, the State has a huge obligation here,” Begich said at a media teleconference, adding that, “the State has to do more to ensure food security for the far west regions. “The state has to do more in terms of research and analysis of the fisheries. We have a role, but the federal government has limited resources in this area and we are calling on the state to do more work in this arena — to have more consistent data, and to start strategizing on a long term plan for fisheries sustainability in those regions, especially for subsistence users.” On July 14, Parnell officially requested a disaster declaration from acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank. Begich also said the state needs to pay more attention to Alaska’s ports. “We need to prepare Alaska for what is happening and what is coming,” he said. “Oil and gas development in the Arctic, the mineral development around the state, or the fisheries expansion — all these require our ports to be more robust than they are today.” Fish watch Lots of fishing in Alaska besides salmon: halibut and sablefish are still being targeted in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Nearly half of the 24 million pound halibut catch limit has been caught. About 12 million pounds remain in the sablefish (black cod) quota of just more than 29 million pounds. Alaska’s scallop fisheries opened July 1, panning waters from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. … Pollock and cod fisheries also occur in the summer. … The Bering Sea squid fishery is close to reaching its nearly 800,000 pound quota. … The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery opens Aug. 15 with a catch topping 6 million pounds … Find tickets for three days of Salmonstock, August 3-5 in Ninilchik. Find out more at Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit for more information or contact [email protected]

Sea otter study ongoing

Sea otters are expanding throughout Southeast Alaska and dining on crab, sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and more as they go. An ongoing study aims to track the otters, what they’re eating and where they are going — and researchers hope to get “grounds truth” from Southeast residents. For the past two years, Sea Grant marine advisory agents have spearheaded a project to learn more about the region’s sea otter diets and behaviors. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided aerial surveys and otter tagging to track their movements around Kupreonof Island, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game helps with logistics and data. “This is just for Southern Southeast Alaska,” said Sea Grant’s Sunny Rice in Petersburg. “It includes Kupreanof Island, Prince of Wales Island, Kuiu Island and inside in the Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell areas. We’ve sort of drawn a line at Frederick Sound, although we will be interested in how they’ve moved up the north shore.” Aerial surveys have provided snapshots of otter activity but Rice wants to hear about otter sightings from longtime residents. “We want to learn when they first saw otters entering the areas they use on a regular basis, when they started seeing bigger groups if they did, and if they noticed what those otters were eating,” Rice said, adding that it’s most important to hear from people with a long term perspective. “People who frequent those areas continually year after year, so commercial fishermen will be great sources as well as recreational or subsistence users who to the same place time after time and have witnessed an influx of sea otters,” she said. The resident surveys will be combined with other research to make some otter predictions. “Hopefully, we can use that information and add it to what we know and come up with a good model on how the sea otter population has expanded, with the long term goal of being able to predict how it will continue to grow so people can make decisions based on more information,” Rice said. Sea otters were reintroduced to the southern regions in the late 1960s. Best estimates peg the population at about 19,000 animals in 2011. The animals are able to reproduce at any time of the year, and have a population doubling time of about five years. The otters are predators of almost every species that fishermen target. They have completely wiped out urchins and sea cucumbers in several areas, and are making inroads into some prime geoduck areas, according to Phil Doherty, director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fishery Association. Out of 15 Dungeness crab districts, six have large otter populations and Dungie pots have lost nearly 3 million pounds to otters in a decade, based on ADFG estimates. A report last year by the Juneau-based McDowell Group said otter predation has cost Southeast’s economy more than $28 million since 1995. Sunny Rice hopes to interview as many people as possible this summer and will travel to Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan later this month. Ray reflects on ASMI After 10 years at the helm of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, executive director Ray Riutta is stepping down. “It’s time to bring in some new blood and new ideas,” he said. Prior to ASMI, Admiral Riutta spent 38 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. Now, retirement is looking pretty good. During his tenure, Riutta said he is most proud of ASMI’s role in helping to revitalize Alaska’s salmon industry. “We’ve participated in seeing the resurgence in value of the Alaska salmon fishery by orders of magnitude. I think of all the things that have happened through the 10 years I’ve been here, seeing that value come back to the fishermen is probably the thing I am most pleased with,” he said in a phone interview. Riutta said the power of the Alaska seafood brand has gotten stronger over the years. “We spent a lot of money on that – separating Alaska from the pack and we’ve carved out a pretty good niche for salmon and all Alaska seafood products,” he said. “The resulting value in the market demonstrates that. “The industry is putting a lot more time, money and effort in adding more value to products and there is far more respect for frozen products.” Riutta added that the biggest challenge will be holding onto that position in world markets. “We are the highest priced commodity on the shelf and we’ve got a special niche — fortunately ‘Alaska’ sells people and they are really excited about it, but holding that position and holding our value is going to be a big challenge,” he said. “And with the growth of all these certification programs and some of the restrictions that come with those, the ability to hold our market access and keep our name out there will be a challenge to us in coming years.” Riutta said what he has liked least about ASMI the job is all the necessary bureaucracy. His favorite part of the job is the people. “It has been a lot of fun and there’s a lot of really talented and sharp people and a lot of characters,” he said with a laugh. “This is really a fun industry to work in. I’ve just had a ball the last 10 years.” Riutta is quick to credit the state for its strong backing for ASMI, in both funding and support. “The administration and the legislature have joined the seafood industry as true partners in marketing our products,” he said. “The state is now putting up matching funds that come to almost 50 percent of our core budget up to $9 million, depending on what the industry brings to the table. That’s pretty remarkable considering it was zero when I first came to town.” In spite of tough competition in world markets, Riutta believes Alaska seafood will continue to have a bright future because “cream rises to the top.” “We have the best fish and the best industry in the world,” he said. “Certainly there will be bumps in the road but as long as we keep focused on producing terrific products and take good care of our fish, we’re going to be fine.”

Agenda dominated by halibut in Kodiak; Trident launches eco-box

Nobody wants to waste fish – least of all those who make their living from the sea. Fish harvesters want and need to be able to catch as much as they can to sustain their families and livelihoods. And as upstanding citizens, they obey the law when they discard “prohibited species” taken while they’re fishing for their “target catch.” When fishing seasons open, it’s impossible to not catch a mix of fish when they blanket the sea bottom, and fish of all kinds and sizes will go after a baited hook. So certain amounts of “prohibs” are allowed to be taken in a fishery, and there are strict limits on how much. When it comes to setting the rules, the buck stops with fishery managers. Rules about halibut bycatch will be the 5 million pound question when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes June 6 to June 11 in Kodiak. The NPFMC sets the catch and bycatch limits for all federal-water fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, which produce 80 percent of the state’s seafood landings. Since the mid-1980s, managers have allowed 2,300 metric tons, or about 5 million pounds, of halibut bycatch each year in Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. Meanwhile, commercial fishermen have had their halibut catches reduced 63 percent in recent years due to dwindling numbers of legal sized halibut, and sport charters are being limited to one or two fish per day. “I think the basic fact is that for so long there hasn’t been any adjustment for bycatch. Yet for both commercial and sport charter fisheries, there have been huge adjustments based on shifts of halibut biomass. That on its face is not quite equitable,” said Denby Lloyd, Kodiak fishery advisor and a former NPFMC member. There’s plenty of finger pointing to go around. Most of the halibut bycatch (2,000 mt) is taken in trawl fisheries, with 300 mt for the hook and line cod fleet. A big unknown is the amount of fish discarded by the halibut fleet, which unlike the others, is not required to have onboard observers and/or vessel monitoring coverage. Analysts estimate that due to 32-inch size restrictions for retention, for every 10 halibut the commercial fishermen catch, they must throw six smaller ones away. (A restructured observer program set to be in place next year will include coverage of the longline halibut fleet as well as vessels less than 60 feet.) Fishery managers have clearly gotten the message. Halibut bycatch was the first order of business on the NPFMC agenda when it convened June 6, and 20 hours were allotted on the topic. At the get go, the group is poised to reduce the bycatch level by up to 15 percent. “It’s a small cut at this juncture, but it’s a first step to continually reducing halibut bycatch,” said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, a member of the Council Advisory Panel. At the same time, Council staff have compiled a discussion paper on comprehensive approaches to bycatch control beyond setting caps. “There are a lot of options, but it’s in the early stages and not even in the initial review of an analysis,” said Lloyd, referring to the glacial pace of Council processes. “The really important part comes later on. And people should make sure that the Council doesn’t impose a 10 or 15 percent reduction and then go on to other business. It’s got to be step one of a comprehensive approach.” Options in the Council document include voluntary bycatch cooperatives (without share allocations) modeled after the Bering Sea pollock fishery, where members share real time information on avoidance measures, and have “rolling hot spot” closures in areas where “prohibs” are appearing. “That’s been very successful and the trawl fleet has done it for themselves,” said Lloyd. “They established a structure where the co-op limits bycatch and applies individual boats with their own penalties. That was pretty darn creative,” Other possibilities listed are fixed area closures, individual bycatch quotas and electronic monitoring, both of which are used in Canada, with great results. The Gulf trawl sector advocates for a catch share program as the best way to slow down their groundfish fisheries and reduce bycatch, but that has met with some resistance. “Gulf trawlers have needed catch shares as a tool for years, yet many of the folks who are howling the loudest about halibut bycatch reductions are the same ones who don’t want rationalization for the trawlers,” said an industry stakeholder. At a recent workshop convened by the NPFMC and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, 19 presentations were given on halibut bycatch estimation, halibut growth and migration and effects on harvest strategy. All concluded that halibut bycatch is reduced with individual vessel responsibility.  Trident launches Eco-Box Trident Seafoods introduced 100 percent recyclable fish boxes to the world with its shipments of some of the first fresh Copper River reds. Trident is the first to use the no-wax, wetlock fiber boxes made by engineers at International Paper. The “AquaSafe” boxes meet criteria for airline shipment and are fully recyclable. They can also be wet-iced, containerized and shipped by barge or truck. “Most importantly, the boxes maintain the integrity of the product,” said John van Amerongen, Trident’s chief sustainability officer. A panel that reads “DON’T BOOT OUR NEW BOX!” on the bright red and blue fish boxes encourages customers to recycle them along with other cardboard. “It’s another pearl in the sustainability string,” van Amerongen said. “People are really paying attention to packaging and to us it is synonymous with our commitment to sustainability. We are proud to provide healthy products and innovative packaging to seafood lovers based on those foundations.”

Inlet up, Bay permits down; hot demand for herring

The value of Alaska fishing permits has see-sawed over the past year with Cook Inlet prices heading upward and Bristol Bay on the down side. “Cook Inlet had a really good year last year, and they’re expecting another strong fishery this summer,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Salmon drift permits have taken off with sales made at $80,000 compared to around $50,000 last year.” Prices have headed the other way in Bristol Bay. “The Bay permits are not so hot. They ran way up last year on expectations of good fish numbers and a good price, but it didn’t really pan out the way folks were hoping it would,” Bowen said, adding that Bristol Bay drift permits that fetched $165,000 right before last season are now selling for $110,000 to $115,000. Elsewhere, Prince William Sound seine permits are selling at $172,000, and drift permits at Copper River are trading at around $180,000 with strong demand. Bowen said there’s been little sales action at the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik and Kodiak, where seine permits are at $40,000. Brokers are busy in Southeast, says Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. Hand and power trolls have been in demand all year with power permits jumping from $33,000 to $40,000. Southeast seine permits are wanted but none is available due to the recent buyback and reorganization of the seine fleet, and gillnet permits have slacked off at around $85,000. Olsen said interest has really picked up for Dungeness permits as well as for other crab fisheries, “There’s really good interest in red king and Tanner crab permits for the last two years, and those had been very slow,” she said. “Stand alone permits for red king crab are at about $60,000 to $65,000 and they are hard to come by and very few. Tanners are at $160,000 to $175,000. A full package deal for red, brown, blue king crab and Tanner runs about $200,000. There are only two on the market and there’s lots of interest.” Also hard to come by are Southeast dive permits — sea cucumbers have jumped from $11,000 in January to $19,000 now, “and people would pay more,” Olsen said. Permits for geoduck clams are averaging $88,000. While permit values are up and down, prices for shares of halibut and sablefish (black cod) continue to climb but the market is very tight with little sales action. “Only small amounts are available so it has pushed the price up,” said Olsen. Halibut quota in Southeast is in the $35 to $39 range depending on the amounts and category, sand has gone as high as $43 per share; Southeast black cod shares are fetching about $35, compared to $22 to $32 last year. Whereas the black cod stocks have ticked upwards along with prices, Bowen said holders of halibut quota shares are, “quite depressed over all the cuts over the past few years and the general feeling that the stocks haven’t been managed as well as they could have been and what that means for the future. There is a lot of worry, and rightly so.” “If you’re a buyer and you’re looking at recent trends, do you really want to spend $37 to buy into something that you’re concerned could be cut again and significantly next year? For the sellers they are trying to figure out if they should sell or hold on. There is so much uncertainty,” Bowen said. Halibut managers need some fixin’ Major changes are recommended for managers that oversee Pacific halibut fisheries and being more open to the public tops the list. For the past year the International Pacific Halibut Commission underwent an extensive performance review by CONCUR, Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm specializing in complex natural resources and infrastructure disputes. The IPHC is the world’s oldest regional fisheries management organization, set by a U.S./Canada treaty convention in 1923. The group has six commissioners, three each from the U.S. and Canada. While it has been largely successful at managing the halibut stocks through surveys, modeling and conservative catch limits, CONCUR said the way the IPHC operates is outdated and out of touch with most stakeholders. “It’s a 19th century model that’s not been allowed to evolve using present-day processes,” said one respondent. Some commenters also view IPHC staff as too “ivory tower,” and too heavily preoccupied with modeled results at the expense of valuing observations from the field. Trust with the IPHC is at an ebb, the review said, especially among Canadians and many other stakeholders who are frustrated with the decades-long failure by U.S. managers to address trawl halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska. The performance review identifies 12 steps the IPHC can take to improve its governance and build on its good work to date. Topping the list was conducting more deliberations in public instead of behind closed doors, “It’s a bit of a black box,” said one comment, noting that the commission doesn’t even put out minutes summarizing its executive session deliberations. Other recommendations include using a set of practices and protocols for halibut meetings. Other recommendations include expanding the Commission to represent more user interests and to elevate the importance of Tribes and First Nations, leadership at the commissioner level, and improving public communications. The CONCUR report also says the IPHC staff is “well led” and its scientists are skilled and experienced. Fish watch The fish beat the boats last week to Alaska’s biggest sac roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay, where the forecast calls for 21,622 short tons. Depending on its quality, the roe herring should meet a market eager for fish. Catches came up way short in San Francisco, British Columbia, and Sitka — where seiners took less than half of the nearly 29,000 ton harvest. That has Sitka prices soaring, according to, with first contracts in the range of $1,500 per ton, more than double last year. The shortage has combined with strong demand for herring processing in China. Reports from Japan, where all the roe ends up, say the dramatically cheap prices in past years has resulted in a huge expansion of new customers. Speaking of shortfalls: Alaska salmon fishermen won’t face competition this summer from sockeyes at British Columbia’s Fraser River. Managers say the run there is expected to be so weak a commercial fishery is unlikely. And with near record ice and snow packs still to melt, they are concerned that the returning reds will struggle to get upstream against strong freshets in the Fraser River. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit for more information or contact [email protected]

Voting begins for 'Ultimate Fishing Town' title; IPHC in the classroom

Several Alaska towns are vying for the title of “Ultimate Fishing Town,” which comes with a $25,000 check for local fishing projects. The annual competition is sponsored by the World Fishing Network, “a 24/7 television network dedicated to all segments of fishing,” according to its website. WFN, which focuses on sport fishing, originally launched in 2005 and is now seen in more than 20 million North American households via cable, satellite and the internet. As of May 11, nine Alaska towns were among the hundreds of hopefuls on the leaderboard — but they have a lot of catching up to do. In the lead for the best fishing destination was Waddington, N.Y., (on the St. Lawrence River) with 18,645 votes. Ranking No. 6 with 2,307 votes was Dillingham, touted as “The hub for Bristol Bay, nicknamed America’s fish basket, and home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.” “How could the wildest fishery in the world be losing to the east coast!?” Dillingham artist and activist Apayo Moore told the Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman. “We deserve to be the ultimate fishing town because our life is fish, and we attract people from all over the globe to our world-renowned fishery.” Coming in at No. 8 with 1,228 votes was Petersburg — “Alaska’s Little Norway, king salmon and 300 pound halibut…home to the largest salmon ever caught at 126 pounds!” Other Alaska towns on the list include Igiugig with 41 votes — “Gateway to an angling paradise on the Kvichak River, which runs through town and feeds Bristol Bay”; Seward — “Alaska starts here,” 38 votes; and Cordova “Home of Copper River salmon” —10 votes. Soldotna — “Known for the world famous Kenai River, home to the world record king salmon,” 7 votes; Kodiak — “Anywhere and everywhere, from 400 pound halibut to king crab and king salmon,” 3 votes; Anchor Point — “The most western location of the North American highway system,” 2 votes, as did Valdez — “Absolutely the best salmon fishing there is!” Sitka — where “Everyone in town dresses like a fisherman and the biggest tourism sector is sport fishing. On a bad day you catch fish” — had one vote. WFN will hold the official $25,000 check presentation in the winning fishing town. Second place winner gets $5,000 and $2,500 for third place. Halibut in schools Teachers can now put math and science skills to the test using Pacific halibut as the subject. The new school series is a first try for the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which oversees stocks for the west coast, British Columbia and Alaska. Throughout four lessons students play roles that range from ocean organisms to fishery managers, said Heather Gilroy, program manager at the IPHC. “Students are asked to think of the entire ocean ecosystem and be an organism, an industry person, a biologist and a manager,” she told KDLG. The free halibut program, complete with colorful Power Points, integrates math, economics, technology, geography and civics. Lesson plans are geared to fifth through eighth graders, but can be adapted for high school. More plastic Tiny pieces of plastic floating beneath the ocean’s surface are most worrisome because fish are believed to suffer liver damage from eating the particles. While working in the Pacific Ocean, oceanographer Giora Proskurowski from the University of Washington noticed that while the water was covered with tiny pieces of plastic, most disappeared the moment the wind picked up. He discovered that the wind was pushing lightweight particles below the surface — meaning that decades of research conducted by skimming the surface have been producing the wrong results. Proskurowski believes the amount of plastic in the water has been underestimated by two and a half times, and by as much as 27 times in high winds. Fish watch NOAA Fisheries will unveiled its annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report on May 14, reporting that six stocks were declared rebuilt in 2011, including Bering Sea snow crab. Commercial and recreational fishing generates $183 billion per year to the U.S. economy and supports more than 1.5 million full and part-time jobs. Fully rebuilt fisheries are expected to add an estimated $31 billion to the economy and an additional 500,000 jobs, an advance notice said.

Tsunami debris hitting Alaska coasts, next year could be even worse

Soccer balls…motorcycles…reminders of the massive tsunami in Japan a year ago are now appearing along Alaska’s coastlines. “It’s safe to say that tsunami debris is here,” said Merrick Burden, director of the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation. Since January the MCA has been tracking where and the kinds of debris that is coming ashore, and whether it is radioactive (none so far), at Kodiak, Yakutat, Sitka and Craig where the wreckage was first likely to hit. “What we’re finding are wind driven objects like buoys, Styrofoam, and large containers, some of which contain materials that are potentially toxic,” Burden said. “We’re finding drums full of things that we don’t know what they are yet. So we’re looking at a potential large scale environmental problem, and what we’re dealing with now is just the start of it.” Debris has been found in every area they’ve looked, Burden said, and mysterious sludge is washing up on some beaches, apparently from opened containers. Just days ago, an enormous amount of floating debris was spotted off the southern reaches of Prince William Sound, making national headlines. But the worst is yet to come. “Next year is when we expect the larger debris that is driven by currents rather than wind,” he said. “That should be comprised of entirely different types of materials, and it might even follow a different trajectory through the water and end up in different locations. “Part of the problem is that we don’t know what we’re dealing with, and it looks bad. It’s obviously tragic, and it looks like it’s a pretty major environmental hazard as well.” Some references are being made to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, saying the impacts of tsunami debris could be worse and more widespread. “We are dealing with something that will be scattered across the majority of the Alaska coastline as it sweeps across Southeast, through the Gulf, out to the Aleutians and spits up into the Bering Sea. And it looks like some of these containers and canisters contain toxic materials that may be hazardous to human health. There is sludge washing up on some of these beaches, and we can’t know what it’s comprised of, but it’s near a container that was recently opened.” Alaskan mariners, fishermen, pilots and beachcombers can play an important role in tracking the oncoming tsunami debris. “Let us know about the debris you’re finding – where it is, what it is comprised of, take a photo, and send to us,” Burden said. “We are also sharing the information with NOAA and we’re all just trying to get a better understanding of what’s out there and what’s coming.” Marine trades move Alaska With 82 percent of Alaska’s communities unreachable by roads, water is the way to go. Businesses that serve the marine industry, including ports and harbors, are a lifeline for coastal communities. State economic specialists want to highlight the importance of the marine trade sector across Alaska, and the jobs it provides, which are often overlooked. “Research shows that about 80 percent of new jobs are created by existing businesses in a community, rather than businesses attracted to a community. Our goal is to try and retain and expand existing businesses, and doing so is a surer economic development bet than recruiting new ones from other places,” said specialist Kevin O’Sullivan at the Division of Economic Development. To identify the challenges facing businesses, as well as future opportunities, DED needs to get input from Alaskans via an online Business Retention and Expansion questionnaire on how local marine businesses are faring. “Ship building and repair businesses, seafood processors, all modes of transportation, marine vendors, such as welders or automotive folks, marine construction, anyone dealing with logistics or fuel, ports and harbors and the infrastructure associated with that, and the marine professional services we forget about – engineers, banks, insurance companies, accountants,” O’Sullivan said. A survey targeting fishermen will follow in the fall, he added, along with follow ups over the years to track any trends. “It is valuable to look at results over time because the information will show not only how well businesses are doing, but where the businesses are shifting and relocating to, and why that might be occurring, and the reasons for that might be important,” he said. “We hope through efforts like this it will become clear how vital and valuable this overlooked and very much under promoted economic sector is to the state’s economy and to the people who work in these places.” Comments wanted on observer program The public has until June 18 to comment on the proposed rule for the restructured observer program set to start up January 2013. The new program will change how observers are placed on fishing boats, paid for, and for the first time, they will be aboard the halibut longline fleet and on vessels less than 60 feet. People affected by the new rules can really help shape the new program, said Martin Loefflad, director of the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division of the North Pacific Fishery Observer Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “It is really helpful when people read the rule very carefully and think of how it is going to impact them, rather than saying ‘I like it or don’t like it’,” Loefflad said. “Give us some concrete suggestions on how we can improve the language to make it work better. That really helps us because the final rule will be adjusted based on public comments. It’s the people who are out there who will be impacted that can help us create it to work at the start.” NOAA Fisheries also is seeking a contractor to oversee observer training and deployment to shore side debriefings. Here comes Copper River! Southeast trollers have been providing Alaska king salmon all year, and small fisheries opened May 1 on the Stikine and Taku Rivers in Southeast, but it’s the Copper River salmon opener that officially signals the start of Alaska’s salmon season. The famous fishery opens May 17 and the River is expected to produce another robust run of reds and kings. “Last year was a big surprise with over two million reds and we expect another good year. Kings are on par with last year, with a somewhat higher forecast. Over 20,000 were caught caught last season,” said Beth Poole, director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. “Cordova is filling up with fishermen who’ve come to get their boats ready,” Poole said of the fleet of 540 salmon permit holders. “We had so much snow and winter is still lingering, but we’re looking forward to the first opener and a great season.”

Halibut bycatch cuts at June council meeting; snow crab harvest continues

It has taken a quarter of a century, but fishery managers are finally poised to take action to reduce the five million pounds of halibut taken as bycatch in Gulf of Alaska fisheries. Industry watchers are hoping that public comments will sway them to make the largest cuts under consideration. Currently, 2,300 metric tons of halibut bycatch, a prohibited species catch, or PSC, is allowed in the GOA groundfish fisheries. That is further broken down to 2,000 metric tons for the trawl sector and 300 metric tons for hook and line fisheries, primarily the cod fleet. Those are the two fisheries that have the highest amounts of halibut bycatch. At its June meeting in Kodiak, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will vote to cut the Gulf PSC bycatch limits by 5, 10 or 15 percent. “These are fairly small cuts at this juncture but it’s a first step to continually reducing halibut bycatch,” said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, who is a member of the Council’s Advisory Panel. “It has been 25 years since the bycatch limits were established and they have remained relatively unchanged since then. In this same time period the commercial halibut catch in the Gulf has been reduced 63 percent. There are a large number of people that depend on that resource and these cuts have had and will continue to have dramatic effects on our fisheries and businesses and community economies.” The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which manages the halibut fisheries, estimates that each pound of bycatch results in lost yield ranging from 0.9 pounds to 1.1 pounds, depending on the region. This means one pound of halibut caught as bycatch results in 1.5 pounds to 1.7 pounds of lost spawning biomass, according to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Because the IPHC manages the halibut fisheries based on the biomass of the halibut stock, bycatch has a direct impact on all halibut harvesters. Sport fishermen also are feeling the pinch. The annual bycatch total exceeds the combined harvest level for the sport halibut fisheries in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, which together totaled more than 4.4 million pounds in 2010. “Many people in Alaska and around the nation are concerned with the condition of the halibut stocks and council members need to hear from people,” Peterson said. The AMCC has generated a sign on letter that provides an easy way for people to show their support for the 15 percent halibut bycatch reduction. It will be presented as a petition to the NPFMC when it meets in Kodiak in early June. Kodiak is the fishing community that will be most affected by the Council’s bycatch decision. “Halibut bycatch is first up on the agenda and it is critical that the voting Council members hear from people when they are in Kodiak,” Peterson said. “Every testimony matters and they really like to hear from community members.” Alaska vs. World Most fishing and seafood processing is done out of sight and it can be easy to lose track of what’s crossing the docks – and where Alaska fits in the global seafood picture. Data from 2010 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute show that pollock makes up 44 percent of the landed tonnage, other groundfish at 22 percent, salmon at 17 percent, Pacific cod at 11 percent, shellfish and herring both at 2 percent and halibut and black cod produced one percent of Alaska’s total seafood tonnage. Salmon made up 30 percent of the total seafood value, followed by pollock at 25 percent, shellfish at 15 percent, halibut at 10 percent, cod at 9 percent, sablefish at 6 percent and herring was worth 2 percent of Alaska’s total seafood value. Broadening the picture: Alaska produces over half of all seafood landings in the US and 90 percent of the nation’s wild salmon. Globally, 12 percent of salmon comes from Alaska and 10 percent for crab. In all, Alaska produces just 2 percent of the world’s total seafood harvests. Speaking of world seafood harvests Thousands of tons of wild fish are caught each year to feed farmed fish. Spanish researchers at the University of Oviedo for the first time analyzed DNA fragments from fish-based feeds used in aquaria and salmon farms. The results showed that eight species high on the food chain are used, including anchovies, whiting, cod, herring and mackerel. Some of the feeds are made from byproducts produced from seafood processing, but much comes directly from fisheries. The researchers said using fish from commercial fisheries as feed does little to minimize the exploitation of natural fish populations. . They “urgently” suggested replacing wild fish in fish feeds with other proteins. Fish watch It has been a long winter for Bering Sea crabbers who since January have taken about 75 percent of their 88.9 million pound snow crab harvest. Crabbing also continues for blue kings at St Matthew Island, where there is a 2 million pound quota this year. There is little to no jig effort for cod around the Aleutian Islands, but the fishery will remain open until the 5.5 million pound quota is caught or till June 9, whichever comes first. In the Gulf, jigging for cod is going strong, and 117 boats have caught nearly half of their 7.8 million pound allocation. Kodiak herring also is more popular this year with up to 35 boats on the grounds, double last season. Halibut fishing continues slow but steady. So far about 12 percent of the 24 million pound catch limit has been landed. Sablefish deliveries are at 16 percent of the 29 million pound quota. At Prince William Sound, trawlers are targeting side stripe shrimp with a quota of 145,000 pounds. All herring fisheries remain closed in PWS again this year. Shrimping opened in Southeast May 1 along with the spring troll season for kings. (The winter fishery closed April 27.) A lingcod fishery opens May 16 with a regional harvest of more than 330,000 pounds. Southeast Divers are finally back in the water after almost a two-month hold, due to high PSP levels in geoduck clams. Just more than 100,000 pounds of clams remain for harvest in two regions. The first salmon openers for 2012 are kicking kick off at the Stikine and Taku rivers in the Panhandle on May 7, with Copper River following in mid May. And once again, there will be no commercial fishery this summer for Yukon River kings.

Farmed fish flood, exchange rate shifts will impact salmon markets

A resurgence of farmed fish and shifting world currencies could shake up salmon markets this year. “There are two trends going into the current salmon season that we haven’t seen for several years,” said Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. “Exchange rates look to be weaker, not stronger, and perhaps more importantly, farmed salmon prices, rather than rising or holding steady, have fallen significantly. So we will be selling into a market where there is a lot more competing product available at a lot cheaper price.” There has been a huge rebound in world farmed salmon production over the past year — notably, by Chilean producers who have recovered from a killer salmon virus that devastated their industry four years ago. Chile pegs farmed salmon and trout production this year at 700,000 tons, or 1.5 billion pounds (round weight), just slightly less than Alaska’s total salmon poundage last year.  “I absolutely think what is happening in farmed salmon production and markets is the critical thing for the Alaska salmon industry to be paying attention to going into this salmon season,” Knapp said.  Norway, the world’s other major farmed salmon producer, also is ramping up sales of whole salmon to the U.S., now that a 24 percent import tax imposed 20 years ago has expired, said Seafood Trend’s Ken Talley. Talley pointed to total farmed Atlantic salmon imports (all products) for the first month of the year, when volume hit 37.4 million pounds, an increase of 16.1 percent over January 2011. The strong increase in volume has had the expected result, he said. The value and average price of imported farmed salmon has taken a hefty tumble: the value is down 6.2 percent to $118.7 million; the average price of $3.17 per pound was a drop of 19.3 percent to from $3.93 per pound in January 2011. Knapp said over the past six months there have been significant declines in farmed salmon prices in the European, U.S., and Japanese markets. At the same time, the currency values of Alaska’s biggest salmon customers – Japan and Europe – have shifted. “The two currencies that matter a lot to Alaskans are the Japanese yen and the Euro,” Knapp said. For the past three years, the value of the yen has been significantly stronger compared to the dollar and that was one of the factors that helped boost salmon prices, he added. Over the winter that trend has reversed and the yen has weakened about 9 percent since January. Meanwhile, political and economic turmoil in Europe has pushed down the value of that currency by about 9 percent. Of course, many other things affect varying cost structures for Alaska’s processors and fishermen – how the catches come in, fuel and labor costs, and this year, the question of visas for foreign processing workers. “Nothing is ever certain about fish prices,” Knapp said, and global financial and economic situations can change markets quickly for better or worse. “That said, there is still strong demand for Alaska salmon, and we are widely diversified in our markets compared to where we used to be, so we’ve got a lot going for us. But I do think this year is somewhat different in that several other things that play into the pricing equation don’t look as favorable as they have for the past several years.” On a historical note he added: “It is important to remember that every decade in the Alaska salmon industry has brought very significant changes since statehood. In the 1970s, we had very low runs and limited entry, in the ‘80s the runs and markets rebounded and things looked extremely promising. Then the price crashed in the ‘90s, and 10 years ago things looked terrible. “Over the past decade we have seen a dramatic rebound and a much better sense of optimism. This decade is no different. All you can do is be aware that there is no guarantee of stability in this industry and pay attention.” Fish watch Spring fisheries are in full swing from the Bering Sea to the Panhandle. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery has about 30 million pounds remaining in its 89 million pound quota. Fishermen report the crab are large and of excellent quality. Crabbing also continues around St. Matthew Island for blue king crab with less than 500,000 pounds remaining in the 2 million-pound quota … Jigging for cod in the Gulf has really picked up and fishermen are bringing in boatloads of fish … In Prince William Sound, shrimp fisheries open April 15 with a quota of 145,000 pounds of side stripes for trawlers and more than 51,000 pounds for pot gear. The PWS sablefish season also opens April 15 with a 242,000 pound harvest level … Kodiak’s roe herring fishery begins April 15 … The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is in full swing right now and nearing the 29,000-ton quota … Also in Southeast, geoduck clam divers have been out of the water for more than six weeks now due to high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning …The Southeast winter chinook troll fishery is about over, but will reopen in July. The forecast for this summer calls for about 198,000 chinook salmon for trollers, a decrease of about 21,000 thousand fish … More than three weeks into the halibut fishery, only about 1.3 million pounds were landed, mostly in Homer. Sablefish landings were higher, topping 1.8 million pounds, mostly at Seward. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit for more information or contact [email protected]

Seafood industry touts its economic impacts to federal lawmakers

For the first time ever, seafood industry reps were invited to brief policy makers in Congress on jobs and economic opportunities. The group presented a panel discussion March 22 called “Seafood Jobs in America” to the Senate Oceans Caucus and an audience of 80 people. According to, it included representatives of 12 senators and even one from the White House, plus a large contingent from the environmental community. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both made opening remarks at the event. “Nobody else has really had this conversation,” said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, director of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition, which represents 75 industry groups. “We need them to realize what a big deal it is. We’re talking $115 billion in sales, 1.2 million jobs, and actual income to people involved in the industry of more than $30 billion. This is a big deal and we want them to understand that.” Panel members included Jack Brooks, CEO of J.M. Clayton Co. of Maryland, a blue crab processor; Natalie Webster of the American Albacore Fishing Association in California; David Veal, director of American Shrimp Processors Association of Mississippi; Dane Somers, director of the Maine Lobster Council; and Phil Lansing, a seafood economist and Bristol Bay fisherman. The panel pointed out that America’s seafood industry has a 14 percent market share right now, with the remainder coming from seafood imports. “The reverse of that is we have an 86 percent market opportunity here,” Schactler said in a phone interview. The Marketing Coalition aims to obtain long term funding from, among other things, duties and tariffs collected on seafood imports. The money would be distributed among five locally run regional boards to help grow consumer demand for U.S. seafood. Coalition studies show that seafood industry jobs could increase by 20 percent the value in some areas and fisheries could double. Schactler has been traveling the nation for more than two years to promote the national group’s message. He said the lack of knowledge in Congress about the seafood industry is shocking.  “I had no idea it was as invisible as it actually is. They had no idea of the dependence of coastal America on local seafood,” he said. “They’ve never looked at a boat as a small business. The more aware they are and the more people who get involved, they will understand a little help goes a long way, and the return on investment will be unbelievable.”  Tax credit a business tool Innovation can be time consuming and costly, but it also can spark private sector investments, business expansion and opportunities. That’s the intent of a bill before the Alaska Legislature that gives a 20 percent income tax credit for research and development conducted by corporate taxpayers in Alaska.  “For seafood companies that could include any work on increased protein recovery and new uses for fish protein or other fish products,” said Wanetta Ayers, director of the Division of Economic Development at the state Commerce Department. “For example, one well known project is work that’s been done at Washington State University using microwave sterilization on fish proteins and that is moving into commercialization now. All of those kinds of activities where you take basic research and movie it into the marketplace would be eligible under both the federal and state credit.” Thirty-eight other states offer the tax credit, which includes biofuels and wind power projects, building or improving facilities or software technologies and applying for patents. Ayers said the credit can also help processors comply with new rules from the EPA. “We know that the seafood processing sector is likely going to face new regulations from the EPA and anything they can do to improve their processes and reduce effluent would be eligible,” she said. Along with the private sector, university research also is eligible for the tax credit. “We want to see those kinds of tools put in place that transfers basic research and moves it out into the marketplace,” Ayers said. “In all likelihood it would create a whole new sector of businesses that are helping serve that purpose — whether it’s providing scientific work or engineering — all kinds of activities that would be needed to support this R&D activity.” The tax credit bill, House Bill118, has a hearing by Senate Resources this week. Ayers hopes they vote to put the R&D tax credit in Alaska’s toolbox. “In order for us to be competitive and capture some of the research and development work already happening in other places that is benefitting the seafood sector,” she said. “We’d like to have that work done here in Alaska as well.” Fish farts Researchers are hoping to better understand fish distributions by recording the sounds they make. Many fish make identifiable sounds, and it offers potential for research and management. The most recent sound discovered – fish farts! According to ScienceShot, a service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a team from the University of South Florida picked up the barely audible, cricket-like noises using a robot called a glider that sampled ocean sounds in Tampa Bay. The sounds lasted throughout the day and night, and were most likely groups of menhaden and herring releasing gas from their swim bladders. Of the 30,000 fish species in the world oceans, researchers believe fewer than 1,000 have been recorded. They know that the tiny cusk eel can sound like a jackhammer. And for years the mating calls of cod fish have wreaked havoc for the Norwegian navy, because the love sounds are similar to enemy submarines.  Scientists believe the underwater sound scape can tell a lot about what’s out there, and what they are doing. By mapping these sounds, the researchers hope to get a better picture of species distributions and likely spawning areas. Salmon jam! Salmonstock is being held Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 in Ninilchik. This year’s headliners are: Leftover Salmon, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Ozomotli, Todd Snider, Clinton Fearon and Great American Taxi. The event is hosted by the Renewable Resources Coalition. (See more at

Halibut season starts; agenda set for 33rd ComFish in Kodiak

The Pacific halibut fishery got under way on March 17 and if the dynamic of supply and demand holds true, there will be an upward push on prices. The coast wide halibut catch was reduced by more than 18 percent this year to 33.5 million pounds, following a 19 percent cut to the catch last year. Alaska’s share of the harvest is 25.5 million pounds. That will be shared by roughly 2,200 Alaska longliners who hold quota shares of the halibut catch. While no buyers were talking fish prices prior to opening day, if last year’s market is any indication the first fresh halibut of the season will undoubtedly fetch more than $6 per pound at major ports. The average price for halibut during the eight-month fishery in 2011 was a whopping $6.61 a pound, an increase of $1.75 per pound from the previous year. In all, the value of Alaska’s halibut catch last year was $194 million at the docks.   Trends in the halibut fishery reported by industry expert Ken Talley show that over the past three years, the highest halibut prices occur from September until the fishery closes in November.  Fishermen have learned to pace their deliveries to help maintain the high prices. Last year, 4.3 million pounds, on average, moved to market each month, down almost 21 percent from 2010. Talley said this year, the monthly volume of halibut going to market may average only 3.5 million pounds. A big question on everyone’s mind is despite the shortfalls, how the market might start to push back against the increasingly high halibut prices. And fishermen worry that no matter how high the prices go, it won’t balance out against the continuing decreases in their halibut catches. Phone app tracks stability  Fishing boats rock and roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway and heave. Skippers respond to the movements as they navigate rough seas in tough weather. Now, a new iPhone app provides stability indicators in time to help them make corrections. It’s called SCraMP, for Small Craft Motion Program, and it has a variety of tools boat operators can customize for their vessels.  “There is a view that can give them the accelerations they’ve seen so they can have a sense of how bad they are being beat up – everyone’s knees will tell them that, but sometimes seeing numbers can be helpful,” said Leigh McCue-Weil, an associate professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering who created the application.  “There is a screen that will tell them how severe their roll motions have been, and a screen that gives them a choice of warning metrics that provide an index based on the heave of the boat, the roll and the pitch,” she said. “A fisherman can plug in however many degrees of roll and pitch, and how much heave acceleration and tailor the index for what they feel comfortable with.” SCraMP users can set the points where they want an alarm to display, warning that the boat movements have reached certain limits. The user also has the option to record the boat’s location information along with the behavioral data and send it to an email address. Another screen gives GPS information, and another can record all of the information. McCue-Weil said stability indicators have been talked about for years, but prototypes were too bulky or expensive. After buying a smart phone last summer, she realized it had all the computing power needed to create a stability app. Input from fishermen has helped hone it to their needs, such as tracking roll periods. “That came about from a conversation with a fisherman who said when he is sleeping in his bunk and wakes, up he’ll count off a roll period or two to make sure things seem about right,” McCue-Weil said. “I figured it’s easy enough to have that calculated so when he wakes up, he can look at a screen and see what the roll periods have been for the time he was asleep, and see if there is anything trending that he doesn’t like.” She emphasized that the SCraMP app in no way tries to replace the skills and experience of a good skipper.   “The captain has years of judgment that has been honed to his vessel and to the situations they encounter. I am just trying to help them make wise decisions.” The SCraMP app can be downloaded on iPhones and iPads for free from the Apple iTunes website. McCue-Weil will be giving hands on demos with the app at ComFish next month in Kodiak and hopes to get lots of feedback from mariners. “I am very enthusiastic to get feedback from people who are on the water and who have a better sense of what they need or want than I do,” she said. Find more info on SCraMP at Contact McCue-Weil at [email protected] ComFish 33 Kodiak is gearing up for Alaska’s longest running fisheries trade show set for April 12 to April 14 at the downtown convention center. Exhibitor booths sold out fast, said Trevor Brown, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, host of the event. Included in the fishery forum line up: • Open meeting with Sen. Mark Begich • Updates on the restructured fisheries observer program set to be in place next year  • 20 year review of Alaska’s salmon fishery and a look towards the future with University of Alaska Anchorage economist Gunnar Knapp • New fishing vessel safety regulations, some starting this year • Ocean acidification and its impacts on Alaska fisheries • Maintaining working waterfronts in U.S. fishing communities • Community meeting on Kodiak’s boat lift, the largest in the North Pacific • Updates on the Pebble Mine, Chuitna coal mine in Upper Cook Inlet, and discussion with the State’s large mine permitting team. “I believe the mining trifecta is unprecedented, and all of the participants were eager to come to Kodiak,” Brown said.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit for more information or contact [email protected]

Hatcheries boost salmon value; fishing fatalities decline

Homegrown salmon are Alaska’s largest crop – but don’t ever refer to it as farming. Where farmed fish are crammed into closed pens or cages until they’re ready for market, Alaska salmon begin their lives in one of 35 hatcheries and are released as fingerlings to the sea. When the fish return home, they make up a huge part of Alaska’s total salmon catch.  The state’s annual report on its fisheries enhancement programs show that last year, hatchery returns and harvests were down by more than half from 2010, when a record 77 million hatchery salmon were caught when returning to their home hatcheries. That added up to 49 percent of Alaska’s total salmon catch valued at $168 million, or 34 percent of the fishery’s dockside value.   By comparison, last year 33 million hatchery salmon, or 20 percent of the state harvest, were caught by commercial fishermen. The 2011 catch rang in at $109 million — 18 percent of the total dockside value.   Statewide the hatchery program is credited for contributing 53 percent of the chums, 26 percent of coho, 21 percent of pinks, 16 percent of chinooks and 6 percent of sockeye salmon to the 2011 commercial harvest. Prince William Sound is Alaska’s largest region for hatchery production, accounting for 73 percent of the Sound’s salmon catch last summer. The breakdown of hatchery contributions was   84 percent chums, 75 percent pinks, and 50 percent of both sockeye and coho salmon. Combined, the salmon were valued at $59 million, 57 percent of the value of the PWS fishery. Southeast ranks second for hatchery production, which accounted for 10 percent of the Panhandle’s salmon catch: 75 percent chums, 29 percent coho, 22 percent Chinook, 13 percent sockeye and 1 percent of the pinks. The Southeast hatchery catch was valued at $43 million, 21 percent of the commercial fishery’s value.  Kodiak’s hatcheries accounted for 7 percent of the region’s total salmon catch: 37 percent of the chums, 34 percent of cohos, 21 percent of the sockeye and 4 percent of the pinks. Hatchery fish contributed $6 million to the Kodiak fishery, 14 percent of the total value.  At Cook Inlet, 2 percent of the total sockeye catch came from hatcheries, valued at just under $1 million, or 2 percent of the dockside value. In 2011, hatchery operators collected nearly 2 billion eggs and released more than 1.5 billion juvenile fish. This year more than 54 million hatchery produced salmon are projected to return to Alaska. Alaska spends $20 million each year on fish feed for its 35 salmon hatcheries — feed made primarily from anchovies from South America. At the same time, the tons of fish feed produced by Alaska seafood companies are sold to aquaculture operations in Asia. Wanted: Fishing boats for research The call is out for commercial longline vessels to help with annual halibut stock assessments. The surveys, which occur from June through August, have been conducted by fishery scientists since 1998 and cover waters from southern Oregon to the Bering Sea. “We have a total of 1,274 stations coastwide, and the coast is divided into 27 regions that the vessels are able to bid on,” said Claude Dykstra, survey program manager with the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “We generally have from 11 to 14 boats working for us in a summer.” The IPHC hires the vessel and crew to fish for halibut, along with two halibut samplers to collect various data on the stocks. Dykstra said with running time and weather, each trip takes 22 to 34 days overall. The standard charter rate for most areas in the Gulf of Alaska down to Oregon is $60,000 to $75,000 per region. The regions in the western Aleutians and Bering Sea incur more costs, so rates there are in the $120,000 range. Each vessel can bid to do from one to three regions over the summer. Boats also receive 10 percent of the value of the legal sized halibut that is sold at auction. “They have to clean the fish like they normally do on a commercial trip. So they get that compensation for the extra work involved,” Dykstra said. “The other 90 percent is used to offset the costs of the program to the Halibut Commission. The ultimate goal is to have the survey program be cost neutral.” Another pilot project in Southeast Alaska seeks one longline vessel to participate in a “whisker hook” study aimed at reducing the take of rockfish on halibut hooks. Dykstra said the project is driven by observations of hook modifications in sport fishing for bass or walleye that used a sort of lock spring across the mouth or gap of the hook. “It’s like a piece of wire that’s springy and as the animal goes to bite it, it needs a certain amount of pressure to overcome that springiness and actually get hooked by the hook. The theory is a rockfish won’t get captured, but a halibut that is biting harder will, thereby reducing rockfish bycatch,” Dykstra said. Bids for the halibut stock assessments and the rockfish whisker hook project must be mailed or faxed to the IPHC office in Seattle by 12 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time March 16. Fishing no longer the deadliest job Deaths on the job in Alaska have always been higher than the rest of the nation. It is not surprising considering the extreme weather and work conditions, and the challenges of getting around a state where 82 percent of the communities are not accessible by road. Workplace fatalities are measured by the number of deaths per 100,000 workers. In its March edition of Economic Trends, the state Labor Department shows that Alaska’s workplace deaths have continued to decline, even as overall employment increased 31 percent from 1992 to 2010. Historically, Alaska’s highest fatality rates have been in flying and fishing jobs. During that time period, air taxi and helicopter services accounted for 13 percent of work deaths, compared to 1 percent nationally.   For seafood harvesting, there have been 275 deaths in the past 18 years, or 30 percent of the total. However, Alaska’s fishing industry has dramatically improved its safety record, with on the job fatalities falling from 12 in 1992 to five in 2010. The Labor Department credits laws requiring safety training and equipment for the drop in fishing deaths, along with a move towards management programs that slow the pace of fisheries. In fact, just 10 percent of job fatalities were from fishing in 2010, compared to 18 percent for aircraft pilots. Alaska’s deadliest jobs were in construction, mining and oil and gas, accounting for 26 percent of workplace deaths in 2010.

State forecast: salmon harvest will be 25 percent lower than 2011

State fishery managers project a lower Alaska salmon harvest this year, due to an expected decrease in those hard to predict pinks.  The total catch forecast by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is 132 million salmon, down 25 percent from the 177 million fish taken in 2011. The statewide breakdown is 120,000 chinook (in areas outside Southeast, where catches are dictated by treaty with Canada); 38.4 million sockeye salmon, a decline of 4 percent; 4.3 million coho (similar to last year); 19 million chums, 12 percent higher; and 70.2 million pinks, a 40 percent decrease.   Each year’s annual report on salmon harvest projections also includes a detailed review of the 2011 season for every Alaska region. In all, the fishery produced a catch valued at $603 million at the docks, the third-highest ever. Some 2011 highlights: Southeast Alaska’s salmon catch rang in at $200 million, a record since statehood, and the highest value salmon fishery for the year. The region’s pink salmon catch of 59 million fish fetched an average price of 42 cents per pound at the docks, and totaled $94 million.  Chums at 81 cents per pound were the second-most valuable, adding another $60 million to the Panhandle this summer. More than 1,900 permit holders fished in Southeast, a 4 percent increase.   At Prince William Sound, the salmon harvest topped 39 million fish, most of which were pinks (33.4 million). At Copper River, the sockeye catch topped 2 million fish, nearly double for the previous decade. The 20,000 Chinook catch was below the 10-year average. At Upper Cook Inlet, the harvest of 5.5 million sockeye salmon was the fourth-largest in the past 20 years. The dockside value of $51.6 million was the fifth-highest since 1960, and the highest since 1992. All five salmon species are caught in the upper Inlet, but sockeye have accounted for nearly 93 percent of the fishery over the past 20 years. The estimated value of $518,000 for chinook was about 1 percent of the value of the UCI fishery.  Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch of 21.9 million was 21 percent below expectations. The preliminary value of the Bay’s total salmon catch of 22.7 million fish was  $137.7 million, 17 percent above the 20-year average.   Kodiak had its highest participation in 11 years with 339 of the region’s 593 permit holders, or 57 percent, going fishing. Kodiak’s salmon catch of 20 million fish topped $44.2 million, the highest since 1990 and double the 10-year average. Kodiak salmon seiners averaged $120,161 among 175 permits last summer; 157 set gillnetters averaged $31,137. That was dwarfed at Chignik, where 65 permit holders each averaged $371,327, the highest value ever. At Chignik, the salmon fishery was worth almost $24 million. Nearly 2.5 million sockeye were taken at Chignik, 150 percent higher than the average harvest for the past five years. The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region had a total harvest of nearly 1.5 million salmon, valued at $8 million. Chinook salmon catches were well below average, while chum and coho salmon harvests were well above.  A total of 510 permit holders fished in the Kuskokwim area, where the ex-vessel value was about $2.3 million for the region. At the lower Yukon, a total of 82 chinook were taken in the commercial fishery and zero in the upper river. A total of 409 permit holders participated in the summer chum fishery, about 15 percent below the 10-year average. The fall chum fishery on the lower Yukon was the largest since 1995; the coho harvest was the largest since 1991. The average price for both was $1 per pound, making a record value of $2.1 million for the region. Norton Sound’s salmon fishery included the second-highest chum catch since 1986, and a record $1.27 million in dockside value. A total of 123 permits fished, the highest since 1993. The average prices were $1.70 per pound for coho salmon, and 68 cents per pound for chums. At Kotzebue Sound, the catch of 264,321 chums was the second highest since 1995. A total of 89 permit holders fished, compared to 67 last year, and the highest number since 1995. The total value was nearly $868,000, meaning $9,743 to each fisherman. All of the values are preliminary and will go higher after the final Commercial Annual Operator Reports are submitted to the state by Alaska fish buyers. Those will include bonuses paid for iced fish (up to 15 cents per pound in some regions) and other price adjustments and sales factors. It will be interesting to see if Bristol Bay topples Southeast to regain its title as Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery. Pings, scales and skins Underwater alarms called pingers are putting a stop to marine mammal bycatch in fishing nets. The pingers emit a low frequency specifically aimed at migrating humpback whales to warn them away from shark nets off Australia’s East Coast. The pingers are designed and made by Fumunda Marine at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Innovation Centre. Since the pingers began use two years ago, only one whale was entangled in each year and both were safely released. The Queensland government, which backed the pinger project, said the devices could save hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year. Extra tough fish scales that can crack piranha teeth have been discovered by University of California researchers. The scales come from a huge fish from Brazil called the arapaima. Known as the ancient river monster, it’s one of the world’s largest fresh water fish and can grow to 10 feet long and top 400 pounds. It’s also one of the few air breathing fish in existence. Each of its scales is coated with a rock-hard mineral material, with soft cores made from strings of stretchy protein. Researchers believe the scales could be replicated and used to make better body armor for soldiers or sturdier prostheses. Find a report on the fish scales in the journal Advanced Biomaterials. Pollock skins are a new source for nanofibers that have a similar tissue structure to human organs and skin.  “Hopefully, if you have a damaged organ you can grow these cells outside the body and they can be introduced into the wound and help improve the ability of the organ to heal itself,” said Bor-Sen Chiou, lead researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Albany, Calif. “Studies show that fish gelatin improves cell growth better than mammalian gels.”  Catch this!  Find Fish Radio and new Fish Factor video fishing updates at

Safety, co-op research programs on NOAA budget chopping block

It’s a mixed bag in America in terms of bankrolling “the best available science” for our nation’s fisheries. Based on the preliminary federal budget, funds for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration went from $4.7 billion to $5.5 billion, an increase of about $750 million. Within the NOAA budget, funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service comes in at $1 billion — a drop of $15 million from its actual budget for the last fiscal year. Out of NMFS’ 2013 fiscal year budget, $174 million will fund science and management of U.S. fisheries. NMFS oversees more than 80 percent of Alaska’s fisheries, which occur in federal waters from three to 200 miles from shore. The largest increase in funding — $36 million — goes to a new line item called National Catch Share programs. John Sackton of said the agency does not predict an increase in catch share programs over the next five years. Instead, most of the money will pay for implementation, observer coverage, monitoring and other start-up costs. “The rationale for catch shares,” Sackton said, “is that NOAA believes these programs are the best way to rebuild fish stocks to maximum sustainable yield, which would lead to a 54 percent increase in overall value of U.S. fisheries, worth more than $2 billion at the docks.” One red flag is that the cash for catch share programs comes from a transfer of $17 million from cooperative research programs.        “Cooperative research is used for the payments NMFS makes to industry, often including matching funds, for work involving commercial vessels, gear modifications, and other developments which have had spectacular success in areas such as bycatch reduction,” Sackton said. Another spectacular success set for elimination is fishing vessel safety research. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is set to lose all research funding for its Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Sector, totaling $19.6 million. Of that, the budget for fishing safety programs is $1.5 million. “I am very disappointed in this,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in Sitka. “It’s interesting that those are three of the highest risk groups for workers in the country.” Dzugan said funding cuts have become an annual thing because of lack of support within the Center for Disease Control, the parent agency for NIOSH. “Although it touts fishing safety research as one of its most successful programs, it is a low priority within CDC,” he said.  When the president’s budget came out, Dzugan said he was prompted to investigate the budget of other another risky industry. “The mining industry in the U.S. gets $53 million of research inter-prevention efforts from the federal government. The fishing vessel safety program that NIOSH is doing gets $1.5 million.   That’s about 3 percent of the budget that mining safety gets,” he said.  Dzugan said both industries lose 45 to 65 workers on average per year, but the fatality rates are far different. “When you look at the fatality rates, or the number of fatalities per 100,000 people, fishing vessels have something between 100 and 200 fatalities per 100,000 on average. The mining industry has 0.20 per 200,000 on average,” he said. “There is just no comparison to the risks in those industries and the lesser amount of fund they are getting. And now they are talking about eliminating that $1.5 million. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.” The president’s proposed budget now goes to the House of Representatives and then to the U.S. Senate. Other fisheries budget highlights: a $15 million increase for stock assessments and fisheries research; a $5.5 million increase to support the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts; $8 million to plan and design a new Arctic icebreaker. Employment at NMFS will increase by 75 positions for a total of 2,897 full-time positions. Jump on jobs  High school and college students can sample a career in the last frontier as interns with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Available positions this summer range from working at hatcheries and wildlife information centers to tagging and sampling fish in the field and tracking sea lions in Southeast. The internships are paid positions, ranging from $13 to $20 per hour. “They can get out and actually get their hands dirty and see if it is something they want to do for a life career,” said internship program coordinator Sheila Cameron in Juneau. Ultimately, the goal is to show there are good careers right here in Alaska and hook a new generation into ADF&G. We are trying to attract the best and the brightest to the department.” Internship applications should be made to ADFG. Get more information at [email protected] Deadline to apply is March 5. Seafood winners The Symphony of Seafood played to a packed house last weekend, as fans flocked to taste the new products, vote for their favorites and be the first to hear the contest winners. The event, now in its 19th year, is hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to showcase innovation in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Winners are: Food Service, Sweet Potato Crunch Alaska Pollock Sticks by American Pride Seafoods; Retail, Aqua Cuisine Naturally Smoked Salmon Frank; Smoked, Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustamena Smoke House in Soldotna. The People’s Choice Award in both Seattle and Tracy’s Alaskan King Crab Bisque by Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau. Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon also took the top honor as grand prize winner. All winners now head to the International Boston Seafood show in March.

Parnell pressed on change of DNR mission statement, Rossi charges

Alaskans were surprised to learn that there is a new and very different mission statement posted by the Department of Natural Resources on the State of Alaska website.  The old statement of policy: “To develop, conserve and enhance natural resources for present and future generations.”  The new mission statement: “To responsibly develop Alaska‘s resources by making them available for maximum use and benefit consistent with the public interest.”  Questions about the mission shift dominated a recent press conference, where Gov. Sean Parnell was quick to defend the change. “I certainly had a role in that mission statement,” he said. “It comes straight out of the Alaska Constitution. It is Article 8, Section 1 of the Constitution. I think that’s a pretty good foundation for a department’s mission.” Parnell was pressed on the removal of the word “conserve,” the adding of the term “maximum development” and the lack of mention of future generations. “Even though it doesn’t expressly mention that conservation element, it’s implied in the terms of that section,” the governor said. “So it’s development, it’s conservation, it’s everything. So read the Constitution – that’s exactly where that mission came from.” Queried one reporter: “You’re saying it is implied that resources will be conserved for future generations. How so?” It says they will be developed for maximum benefit – it doesn’t say anything about conservation or the future. “You don’t believe maximum benefit for the people implies future generations as well?” asked Parnell. “I do, and I actually gave voice to that in my State of the State address. That it’s not about just us grabbing as much cash as we can now, it’s about our kids and our grandkids and that they have a legacy too. That’s exactly why I think conservation is implied in there as part of the policy. I’m not going to argue with the Constitution. I think it’s a pretty good direction for the Department of Natural Resources.” APRN’s Dave Donaldson pointed out, “The state statute that actually defines and puts into statute as the mission for DNR does use the word conserve.” Reporters also commented that the DNR policy change appeared to jump the gun, as department mission statements are required to be approved by the Legislature.  “Well, look, I’m willing to have the conversation with legislators,” Parnell said. “Certainly the Legislature gets to set missions and measures by statute. I was a part of that and had a hand in that in the ‘90s when I was in the Legislature. This Legislature has not spoken and I am willing to have the conversation with them. And if they have something better than Article 8; Section 1 of the Constitution as a mission for DNR and want to set that, I’m willing to work with them on it.” What it says Article VIII of the Alaska Constitution addresses natural resources. Section 1, Statement of Policy reads: “It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.” Section 2. General Authority, states: “The legislature shall provide for the utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the State, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of its people.” Section 3. Common Use, states: “Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use.” Gov defends ADFG The governor also was asked at the press conference about recent alleged law violations by staff at the Department of Fish and Game, notably, Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Corey Rossi, who was recently indicted on 12 Class A hunting misdemeanors, and if Alaskans should be concerned that the Fish and Game Department is “broken.” “Absolutely not,” Parnell said. “I think if you look at Commissioner (Cora) Campbell’s leadership, and you look at what’s happened, I think the right outcomes have resulted, and I think, frankly, if you looked at any work place, I think you would find issues. It’s a question of how they are dealt with in the end. And in these cases, I would say look at the department now and tell me what is wrong with it, because I think we have a very professional department and we have very professional leadership there.”  Campbell on Jan. 25 appointed Doug Vincent-Lang, a longtime state fisheries biologist, as new Division of Wildlife Conservation director.    Fishing safety star Jennifer Lincoln, director of the Centers for Disease Control National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Commercial Fishing Safety Research Program in Anchorage, has received the first Life Saver award by National Fisherman magazine. Lincoln, an injury epidemiologist, and her team are credited with developing emergency winch stops, vessel hatch and door monitors, and working with Alaska fishermen to field test personal flotation devices, to name a few.

ADFG site shows off sonar; seafaring superstitions persist

Most people don’t know that 40 years ago Alaska pioneered the use of sonar to track salmon runs, or that state fishery managers operate 15 sonar sites on 13 rivers from Southeast to the Yukon. The goal of making Alaskans more aware of one of Alaska’s most important fish counting tools has been accomplished with the launch of a new web-based project that lets visitors see three types of sonar in action.  The site explains that traditional tools, such as weirs and counting towers, can be used to count salmon in clear, narrow streams, but not in wide, turbid rivers. “To gauge salmon runs we can’t see, we have taken a lesson from one of Mother Nature’s fish finding experts. In glacial silt laden bays and rivers, beluga whales find salmon by emitting high pitched calls and listening for returning echoes. Similarly, we have adopted sonar as a tool to detect salmon not by sight, but by sound,” it says. Sometimes conditions are so harsh, the equipment can’t operate properly, such as at the Pilot Station site on the Yukon River.  “It is a mile wide and you almost have to imagine sand dunes changing in a wind storm on the bottom,” said Debby Burwen, a research biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game’s sport fish division in Anchorage, who helped spearhead the project. “But that is where they need to count the salmon because they are trying to ensure that enough fish escape to Canada. In order to do that, they have to know how many fish are coming into the river.” Burwen said people also don’t realize that managers never depend solely on sonar information, especially on the more complicated rivers, like the Yukon and the Kenai. “But the public doesn’t know that. So when we do have a problem, say on the Yukon, they look askance at all sonar,” she said. “They think that once again the sonar is broken, and Fish and Game doesn’t know what it is doing. We write these wonderful reports and we communicate with other scientists, but if your user groups don’t know what you’re doing, what good is it?” The sonar web site project provides virtual tours of all 13 rivers, as well as radio programs and downloadable brochures. See more at Friday the 13th A life of danger and uncertainty has seafarers observing a strict set of rules that are steeped in myth and superstition.   Many seagoing beliefs are based on the Bible. For example, Friday is the worst day to set out to sea because most sources credit that to the belief that Christ was crucified on a Friday. Similarly, Sunday is the best day to begin a voyage, because Christ’s resurrection on that day is seen as a good omen. Thus the old adage, “Sunday sail, never fail.” A traditional view for centuries was that women had no place at sea. They weren’t strong enough and men would be distracted from their duties, angering the seas and dooming a ship. Lore has it, however, that a naked woman would calm the seas. That’s why many vessels have a bare-breasted figurehead of a woman on the bow. Some others: For hundreds of years bananas have been regarded as bad luck – reasons stem from causing ships to disappear to spider bites. Pouring wine on the deck will bring good luck on a long voyage as a libation to the gods. Dolphins swimming with a ship are a good omen, while sharks following is a sign of inevitable death. Black cats are considered lucky – not so flowers, which could be used for a funeral wreath. It’s unlucky to kill an albatross or a gull at sea, as they host the souls of dead sailors. And whistling on the bridge will whistle up a storm. Cutting your hair or nails at sea is a no-no, and don’t ever step onto a boat with your left foot, or stir a pot or coil a line counter clockwise. Marine myth has it that sailors pierced their ears to improve their eyesight. A gold earring was both a charm against drowning and the price paid to Davy Jones to enter the next world if a sailor died at sea.    Fish abundance This year the U.S. became the first country to put catch limits on every species it manages. That includes all fish and shellfish caught in waters from three to 200 miles from shore. For Alaska, that means 80 percent of the total annual catch.  The outlook this year for both supply and markets is good. Market expert Ken Tally summed it up as, “supplies of major species are expected to increase worldwide, with prices to stabilize with the strong demand.”  Pollock – the world’s largest food fishery – is holding steady for the biggest producers: Alaska and Russia. For cod, the groundfish bellwether global fisheries are picking up in the Atlantic, and the Barents and Baltic seas. In Alaska, Pacific cod supplies this year are expected to increase 4.2 percent. Total groundfish catches in the Gulf of Alaska are pegged at 3 percent higher to about a half billion tons. That includes a nice 15 percent increase for black cod (sablefish). Here is something you don’t often hear: for fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region, scientists said groundfish stocks could sustain a catch of 2.5 million tons, or roughly 5.5 billion pounds in 2012. But years ago overseers on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council – with full support of the industry — imposed a 2 million metric ton cap on total allowable groundfish catches in the BS/AI as a conservation measure.

Strong fishing highlights year in review, picks and pans

Alaska’s seafood industry continued its mission to ramp up its message to policy makers, especially those from rail belt regions who tend to overlook its economic significance. How important is the seafood industry to Alaska and the nation? At a glance: 62 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska, as does 96 percent of all U.S. wild- caught salmon. Seafood is by far Alaska’s No. 1 export, valued at nearly $2 billion (next in line: zinc and lead exports at $785 million); and Alaska ranks ninth in the world in terms of global seafood production. The industry provides more than 70,500 Alaska jobs, more than oil/gas, mining, tourism and timber combined. The seafood industry is second only to Big Oil in revenues it generates to Alaska’s general fund each year. Alaska’s abundant and sustainable fishery resources are the envy of all other seafood producers, and its fishery management is regarded as a model around the world.  Here are some fishing notables from 2011, in no particular order, some of which are included in the annual “Fish picks and pans” that follow: • Halibut catches continued to tumble – the Pacific coast-wide catch limit was cut by 19 percent to 41 million pounds.  Fishery managers put the industry on notice that catches could be reduced drastically in the very near future.  • Kodiak toppled Homer as the No. 1 halibut port for landings for the first time since 1996. Polls continued to show that a majority of Alaska voters oppose the Pebble mine project, and lack trust in both foreign mining and Alaska’s permitting process.   • It took six years, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries/Financial Services finally began accepting loan applications for skippers and crew who want to buy into the Bering Sea crab fisheries.  • For the first time, researchers caught sperm whales on video biting longlines at one end and shaking the fish free, similar to shaking apples from a tree. The video is part of SEASWAP, the  Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project.   • The Department of Commerce and NOAA released draft national aquaculture policies that aim to “increase the U.S. supply of healthy seafood.” • For the first time, fishery managers set a cap on the number of salmon that can be taken as bycatch by Gulf trawlers. • Recycled seawater began warming the Ted Stevens Research Institute in Juneau instead of oil.  • The value of Alaska fishing permits and catch shares took a big jump along with fish prices.    At Bristol Bay, most drift permits were being offered at $160,000 — up from $132,000 in 2010 — and more than double the price in 2009. In prime fishing regions of Southeast Alaska and the central Gulf, halibut shares ranged from $30 to $36 per pound. • Hundreds of one-ton sacks of pollock bone meal were shipped from Dutch Harbor to California to remove lead from neighborhoods. The calcium phosphate in the fish neutralizes the toxic metal.   • Fish tags with iPhone technology were used for the first time to track halibut migrations based on the earth’s magnetic field. The invention of the iPhone and its advancements made the pitch and roll detectors small enough to put in fish tags • Dock prices for Alaska halibut and black cod (sablefish) broke records, topping $7 and $9 per pound, respectively.  • Likewise, advance prices for Bristol Bay red king crab were $9 a pound. A reduced harvest of just 8 million pounds had buyers scrambling for crab. • Crabbers in Southeast Alaska also dropped pots for red king crab for the first time in six years when a fishery opened on Nov. 1. • Bering Sea crabbers were shocked at the catch increase for snow crab, Alaska’s largest crab fishery. The harvest for the 2011-12 season was boosted by 64 percent to nearly 90 million pounds.  • Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon remained as America’s seafood favorites, although seafood consumption dropped slightly to 15.8 pounds per person.   • The state took nearly two years to deny a citizens’ petition aimed at protecting Cook Inlet fisheries from coal mining. The petition asked that buffer zones be required to protect salmon streams of the Chuitna River should Alaska’ largest coal mine be built in the region.  • State officials said there was “no reason to panic” and that Alaska salmon are “relatively safe” from a deadly fish virus that appeared for the first time in Pacific waters. British Columbia said it will test 8,000 wild and farmed salmon for signs of the virus.  • Anchorage ranked No. 1 for Alaska cities with the most resident skippers and crew at more than 1,800. • At $603 million, Alaska’s 2011 salmon catch is the third most valuable since 1975 and likely to end up at No. 2 after final sales are reported by processors and buyers next spring. (Alaska’s most valuable salmon season was $725 million in 1988.) • Southeast Alaska ranked first in the state with the most valuable salmon harvest at $203 million ex-vessel, a $70 million increase over 2010. Bristol Bay came in second with a value of $137 million, compared to $185 million the previous year. • The 2011 pink salmon harvest of 116 million fish was valued at over $170 million, an all time record. Chum salmon rang in at $93 million, the third highest value; sockeye salmon were worth almost $296 million, ranking at sixth place among historic sockeye harvests. Chinook and coho harvests, at $20 and $23 million, were in the middle of their historic values. Alaska processors continued to ramp up their output of customer-friendly salmon fillets.  Production approached 20 million pounds, and increase of 26 percent.  More than 6 million pounds of salmon fillets went out fresh this summer, a gain of more than 30 percent.   For the first time ever, fresh and frozen pink salmon wholesaled for virtually the same price this summer, both at about $1.45 per pound. • A new McDowell Group analysis revealed that sea otter predation on local fisheries has cost Southeast Alaska’s economy more than $28 million in direct and indirect impacts since 1995. • Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, along with Rep. Don Young, introduced legislation to stop genetically modified salmon (“Frankenfish”) from getting to US markets, and to require labeling should it get federal approval. • Marubeni Corporation, parent company of North Pacific Seafoods, purchased the Yardarm Knot seafood processing plant at Naknek, making it Japan’s largest sockeye salmon buyer.  • Dutch Harbor ranked as the nation’s No. 1 port for seafood landings for the 22nd year in a row. 2011 Fish Picks and Pans Best fish partnerships: The fishermen financed/operated Regional Seafood Development Associations for Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound/Copper River Best Alaska seafood cheerleaders: ASMI (Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute) Best fish outreach: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agents Best ‘future fish eaters’ ambassador: GAPP (Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers) for getting top quality seafood onto America’s school lunch trays Best Fish Samaritans: United Fishermen of Alaska and AFIRM  (Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission)  Best fish invention:  NanoIce from Iceland, made of crystallized ice particles that can be pumped  into a hold or container to cover fish. The generators use 90 percent less refrigerant and 70 percent less power than conventional ice making machines.  Best celebrates its local fish town: Cordova Best fish feeders: Sea Share and Kodiak processors and fishermen who partnered to donate bycatch to food banks Fishiest ‘best available science’ snafu: NMFS’ questionable biological opinion on impacts of Steller sea lions on western Aleutian fisheries. Resulting closures to the cod and Atka mackerel fisheries cost the industry $200 million a year.  Biggest fish shocker: Arne Fuglvog  Best fish clean up: The Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance, in partnership with local communities, hauled away more than two million pounds of coastal debris since 2003 from Southeast to the Pribilofs (including a derelict fishing vessel). Best She-Fish: Cora Campbell, Commissioner ADF&G Best fish byproducts booster: Peter Bechtel, UAF/USDA and Scott Smiley, Kodiak Fisheries & Marine Science Center. Biggest fish blunder: Trading 11 miles of productive salmon streams on the Chuitna River for low grade coal for China Scariest fish story: Ocean acidification Best fish PR: Norton Sound Seafood House at Ted Stevens Int’l Airport/Anchorage Biggest fish slam: The state siding with the Pebble Partnership in court to prevent Lake & Peninsula residents from voting on the Save Our Salmon initiative Biggest fish snub (third year in a row): Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo American/Pebble Mine who told Bristol Bay residents “If the people don’t want the mine, we won’t build it.” Biggest fish waste: Alaska spending $20 million on Peruvian fish feed for its 33 salmon hatcheries while sending 200,000 tons of homemade fish feeds to Asia. Biggest fish stall:  The U.S. still not signing on to the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), meaning it has no claims to the Arctic Best fish advocates: Alaska Congressional Delegation: Lisa, Mark and Don Trickiest fish solution: sea otters vs. fisheries in Southeast Alaska Most troublesome fish dilemma:  Millions of pounds of halibut taken as bycatch while sport and commercial catches get trimmed. Biggest fish story of 2011:  Federal guidelines for the first time recommend that Americans eat two seafood meals a week. That means new fishmeal guidelines are required for schools, military mess halls, VA hospitals, prisons and other federally-backed institutions.  This year marks the 21st year for the weekly Fish Factor column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in more than 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry, and to inspire more people to join its ranks.

ADFG proposed budget gets increase in funds, but cuts in staff

Alaska’s commercial fisheries programs could get a slight boost if the governor’s budget for the next fiscal year gets a nod from legislators. The proposed 2013 fiscal year operating budget for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, including all state and federal funds, is just more than $209 million, a 5.1 percent increase. For commercial fisheries, the department’s most expensive unit, a budget of $70.5 million is a 4.4 percent increase. Gov. Sean Parnell also is proposing a bond package that includes $10 million to help Seward prepare to homeport large at-sea processing boats owned by communities in the Kuskokwim region. The vessels now are based in Seattle, and it could begin a transfer of other big boats to remain in Alaska year round.  In the ADFG budget, Commissioner Cora Campbell listed harvest management as a top budget item for fisheries. The report highlighted Yukon River salmon fisheries as a management priority due to its continued low productivity of chinook. Another is managing Southcentral region chinook salmon fisheries in the face of low numbers of returning adults. The state Board of Fisheries has designated seven king salmon “stocks of concern” — six in Northern Cook Inlet and one in Kodiak. The ADFG budget report cites several fishery successes in the past year. Managers achieved a huge milestone in rebuilding Alaska snow crab stocks to sustainable levels within a federally mandated 10-year time frame, while still providing a viable harvest. Also mentioned: Alaska’s 2011 salmon harvest was the third best since 1975; and the second best for groundfish in a decade. Prison trumps people Fish and Game will lose 59 staff positions under Parnell’s proposed budget. The commercial fisheries division will lose 13 full-time positions, and 46 part-time positions. Of the 288 vacant, permanent state government positions to be cut, most are in three agencies: Health and Social Services at 65; ADFG at 59; and the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities would lose 58 jobs. Deleted positions in other agencies range from 22 to zero within the university system, according to an Associated Press report. The AP wrote: “Parnell’s spokeswoman said most of the positions were vacant at least 11 months. The deleted posts are intended to help the state better absorb positions needed for a new prison.” Future fishermen Building future fishing leaders is the goal of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit scheduled for mid-February in Juneau. The Summit began in 2007 as a way to address the many changes the industry and the business of fishing have undergone in recent years. The two-day event provides basic training on four fronts: managing the financial aspects of a fishing business, participating in the regulatory processes, Alaska’s role in the world seafood market and the science and management of sustainable fisheries. “It’s complicated — there are state managed fisheries, federally managed fisheries, hatcheries, people are looking at more financing to get into the fisheries, and the global marketplace has changed,” said AYFS co-organizer Sunny Rice, a Sea Grant Marine Advisory agent in Petersburg. Summit attendees will hear from fishermen who have participated in the political process, network with young and old fishing veterans, and mix with a wide range of industry experts – including Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, who will talk about “where and how a young fisherman can get involved.” Fishermen also will see the Alaska legislature at work in Juneau.  Nearly 200 fishermen have taken part in the AYFS so far and Rice said one thing is for sure — young people are eager for a fishing career.  “I’ve seen an exciting uptick of young people wanting to get into the fisheries and they are coming at it with a cool perspective,” she said. “They think it is exciting and they are really dedicated to all the things that go along with it. It’s not just because it’s the closest job nearby that can make them some money.”  The AYFS is set for Feb. 13 and 14 in Juneau. Some travel scholarships are available, as are Alaska Airlines discounted constituent fares. Rice cautioned that lodging in Juneau is really tight. Register by Jan. 12 to reserve a hotel room at a special rate. Contact Sunny Rice at [email protected] or 907-772-3381. (See more at Christmas sea miracles As we reflect on the reason for the season, let’s not overlook the wonders of the deep. Sponge Bob, for example, could be the next rage in fiber optics. Researchers at Bell Labs have found that a certain type of sponge grows a network of glass fibers far more advanced than any found in today’s telecommunications networks. New Zealand researchers have found that adding fish oil to animal feed reduces the release of methane gas by sheep by 25 percent to 40 percent. More than 20 percent of global methane emissions come from farm animals.  For hundreds of years Asian cultures have used jellyfish to treat arthritis, high blood pressure and back pain. Some jellyfish have a special bio-luminescence that is useful in medical research. Chitin, a substance found in the shells of crab, shrimp and other crustaceans, is packed with medical miracles. The carbohydrate that makes up chitin bonds with red blood cells to form an artificial clot and seals massive bleeding wounds in just 30 seconds. The shrimp based bandages are being used by our troops in Afghanistan. Russian researchers have created a product from enzymes in king crab shells that helps heal severe burns. They claim that sea urchin pigment is remarkable for its anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The venom of the cone snail is being used to treat severe chronic pain that doesn’t respond to other treatment. Just a few micrograms is said to be one thousand times more potent than morphine. Close to 15 drugs derived from marine organisms are in various stages of testing for cancer treatments. The lowly sea squirt appears to be especially promising.

Halibut harvests cut again, steeper reductions may be coming in 2013

As expected, there will be less Pacific halibut to catch next year for fishermen from California to Alaska. Fishery scientists are recommending a 2012 coastwide halibut catch of 33 million pounds, a 19 percent decrease from the 41 million pound limit for this year. Several reasons for the cuts were offered: Pacific halibut stocks continue a decade-long decline; there appear to be too few younger fish entering the population; the halibut are smaller than they should be at a given age; and scientists believe they have overestimated the halibut biomass for years. For Alaska, the proposed 2012 catch is 25.52 millions pounds, a reduction from more than 30 million pounds this year, or about 22 percent. Bruce Leaman, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, said it has been one of the “toughest years ever” for stock assessments. He also put the industry on notice that more severe cuts are likely, possibly as soon as 2013. “It is worth pointing out to you the reality that using our assessment models the way we are, we are consistently overestimating biomass given the performance of the fishery,” Leaman said, speaking at a meeting last week in Seattle. How low could the Pacific halibut fishery go? One forecast model that weighs heavily on “retrospective” catch data projected a decrease to just 15 million pounds. The commission will make final decisions on 2012 catch limits and other proposals at its meeting Jan. 24 to 27 in Anchorage. Fishy Christmas poem There have been many twists to the poem, “The Night before Christmas,” since Clement Moore penned it in 1823. None is quite like the latest, which hails from Sitka as a tribute to commercial fishing. In “The Bight ... Before Christmas,” jolly old St. Nick arrives not in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, but in a skiff hauled by fish. “And then in a twinkling I heard on the deck, the slapping of tail fins in one steady thwack! The scraping of metal, the screech of the latch, and there was St. Nicholas, in through the hatch.” The fishy Christmas poem was first penned by Will Swagle as space filler for his bi-monthly newspaper, the Sitka Soup. “The fishing industry here is so colorful, and at Christmas there are lighted boat parades and all kinds of things that inspired me to make the poem personal to the commercial fishing industry in Alaska,” Swagle said in a phone interview. As it grew more popular, he searched for several years for an illustrator to help turn the “Bight” into a book. The chemistry finally clicked two years ago with local artist Colin Herforth, who created 18 original watercolors. “I’ve spent a lot of time in wheelhouses and on deck and I felt I could lend some authenticity to his verbiage,” Herforth said. Salmon summer sales sizzle It’s been a good year for Alaska’s salmon industry, with prices and sales continuing to tick upward. Alaska fishermen delivered just more than 176 million salmon to processors this summer, 3 percent higher than 2010, although well below the forecast. A breakdown by Seafood Trend’s Ken Tally shows that Alaska salmon fishermen and processors generated $1.14 billion in sales just this summer, up nearly 2 percent in a recession. Another bump up: average dock prices to 76 cents per pound, nearly 3 percent higher than last year, and compared to 57 cents per pound two years ago. Some price highlights: king salmon prices averaged out at $3.35 per pound this summer, down from $3.60 last year—except for Southeast trollers, who got $3.80. Fresh cohos saw nice increases at wholesale this summer, with fillets fetching $6.58 a pound, 31 cents higher than last year. More Alaska headed and gutted sockeye also went to the more lucrative fresh fish market —18.5 million pounds, an increase of 7 million pounds from last summer. Likewise, sales of fresh sockeye salmon fillets doubled to 5 million pounds. Talley calls chum salmon, “the new pinks,” and said many retailers find chums more appealing than sockeyes. Chum prices to fishermen increased a nickel this summer to an average of 75 cents per pound. Salmon sales continue well beyond the summer and the values are certain to increase when the 2011 pack is tallied early next year.


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