Laine Welch

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.

Food banks welcome bycatch; seafood industry touts economic impact

Alaska food banks are the beneficiaries of fish taken as bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, thanks to Kodiak fishermen and local processors. This fall and winter, the partnership has donated more than 5,000 pounds of processed/packaged halibut and salmon to the Kodiak Island Food Bank, and more than 10,000 pounds to the Food Bank of Alaska headquarters in Anchorage. The bycatch to food banks program in the Gulf is an expansion of a retention program authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1994. Federal law requires that species taken as bycatch in trawl fisheries be tossed overboard. Since then the program has been ongoing in the Bering Sea, and this year Kodiak trawl fishermen and processors asked that Gulf bycatch be added, “so good fish would not be wasted,” said Jim Harmon, director of Sea Share, the only nonprofit group that focuses on seafood as a source of nutrition for hunger-relief. “The Kodiak fishermen sign up their boats to be able to retain halibut or salmon taken in trawl fisheries that can’t be returned alive to the sea,” Harmon said. “They bring it ashore and the plants are authorized to retain it and hold it separately for Sea Share.”  Participating processors include Ocean Beauty, North Pacific Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, International Seafoods of Alaska, and Peter Pan Seafoods (King Cove). The Kodiak project also allowed for the food to be distributed locally. “We took as much as our freezers could hold,” said Alexander Tsurikov, director of Kodiak Food Bank. “I had to watch how I handed it out. It went really fast.” Kodiak has reflected the 26 percent national uptick in food bank traffic over the past five years, Tsurikov said. “I am really thankful to all the people who made the program work. I had given up on it ever happening and I hope it continues. And I am glad the fish is being used instead of thrown back into the ocean,” Tsurikov said. The bycatch to food banks program is what got Sea Share started, but today it’s just 10 percent of its seafood pantry. The Northwest Salmon Canners, for example, have donated more than 400,000 pounds of canned salmon to help with disaster relief in the Lower 48 and the upper Yukon River. In all, Sea Share has provided more than 150 million seafood meals to hunger relief since 1994. (See more at Overlooked jobs Out of sight, out of mind could describe Alaska’s seafood industry when it comes to recognition by many policy makers – despite the fact that the industry provides the most private sector jobs, it is second only to oil in terms of state tax revenues, and seafood is Alaska’s top export. To help set the record straight, United Fishermen of Alaska, the nation’s largest fishing trade group, has compiled fact sheets that highlight 18 Alaska fishing ports and their contributions to state coffers. The profiles include the number of permit holders and crew, processing jobs, boats home ported, and other economic data for Anchorage, Cordova, Dillingham, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Petersburg, Seward, Sitka, Wrangell, Aleutians West Borough, Aleutians East Borough, Bristol Bay Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough and the Mat-Su Borough. “UFA feels it is vital to our mission to bring this information out in a way that is clear and useful to help illustrate what the fishing industry brings back to the state of Alaska and its communities,” said Arni Thomson, UFA president. Fishery landings taxes, for example, are split 50/50 between the port where the fish is landed and the state’s general fund ($80 million in 2009). Here’s a sampler of the data: • Sitka is home to 605 vessels where 1,100 skippers and crew fished in 2010. Sitka fishermen earned more than $40 million at the docks; the community and the state shared nearly $2 million in fish taxes. • In Petersburg, 579 boats are home ported and 28.4 percent of the population goes fishing. Petersburg fishermen hauled in $51 million worth of seafood last year and shared $1.2 million in taxes with the state.     • More than 27 percent of Cordova’s population goes fishing and the city of Cordova and the State split $1.5 million in taxes. At Homer, 493 are home based, and nearly $1.5 million in fish taxes went to the state.  • The Bristol Bay Borough and the state split $3.5 million in fish taxes in 2010. Wasilla Palmer and Mat-Su Borough claimed 618 resident skippers and crew who took home nearly $15 million from fishing jobs. • Anchorage ranks No. 1 for Alaska cities with the most resident skippers and crew at more than 1,800. • The Aleutians West Borough, home to Dutch Harbor, ranked first for fish taxes at $3 million paid to the state in 2010.  • And while Dutch Harbor ranks No. 1 for seafood landings and values, Kodiak by far outpaces all other Alaska ports when it comes to fishing “ka-ching!”  The estimated income by Dutch Harbor’s 92 resident fishermen with 30 local boats was $3.3 million. By comparison, 622 vessels call Kodiak home with more than 1,400 permit holders and crewmen. The estimated ex-vessel income by Kodiak residents was $127 million and the port put nearly $2 million into state coffers. Values for the fishing industry typically use ex-vessel (dock prices) paid to fishermen, but that only represents half the value after the seafood is processed and sent to markets around the world. (Find the UFA Fact Sheets at Fish first For the first time since it was established in 1914, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association has taken a position on a politically charged development project: the Pebble mine. PSPA is a trade group representing Alaska shorebased processing companies. “After careful consideration, we are compelled to oppose development of the Pebble Mine project due to its unique location, size and potential harm. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with all Alaska industries on matters of mutual interest and to supporting projects that can ensure no negative impact on fishery resources or the marketability of Alaska seafood,” PSPA said in a release. It added: “We also encourage Bristol Bay fishermen who deliver to Trident, Peter Pan, Yardarm Knot or North Pacific Seafoods to extend their thanks to those for taking this unprecedented step.” (See more at

Revised observer program needs funds to start in 2013

Coming soon to a small halibut boat near you: fishery observers. New rules set for 2013 will change how observers are placed on fishing boats as small as 40 feet – and for the first time, they will be aboard longliners. Onboard observers have been deployed on larger U.S. vessels since the early 1990s, when fisheries were “Americanized” and all foreign fishing within a 200-mile zone of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska was terminated. Prior to that, fleets from Japan, Russia, Poland and other nations were tapping Alaska’s groundfish and crab resources starting in 1933. Fishery observers, who are trained and overseen by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Monitoring and Analysis Division, do not play an enforcement role. Rather, they take biological samples of the catch, track bycatch and collect other data for fishery managers and scientists. Observers also are on the job in Alaska processing plants during fish deliveries. Currently, there are about 400 observers working in Alaska’s seafood industry. Observers were originally deployed according to vessel length. Boats less than 60 feet were exempt from coverage; vessels from 60 feet to 125 feet carried observers 30 percent of the time, and larger vessels had 100 percent or more coverage. The “restructured” observer program will expand coverage to vessels “all the way down to 40 feet, and NMFS has the authority to place observers on vessels below that,” said Julie Bonney, a trawl industry consultant and director of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank in Kodiak. And for the first time observers will be aboard longline vessels. “There’s never been observer coverage in the IFQ halibut fisheries, so now we’ll have information from that sector, as well as all the small vessels,” Bonney said. “We all have issues and we all need to work hard to address those. So getting that information will help us understand how we can move forward in the best practices.” Another fisheries first — for both Alaska and the U.S. — collecting data via video cameras that monitor the catch. “Vessels in the 40 to 57.5 foot sector that are not capable of carrying another person on board can have that as an option,” Bonney said. “It’s kind of exciting because electronic monitoring has not been approved in any regional areas in the US as a monitoring tool. So this will really push the envelope to move that technology forward through the observer restructuring package.” The 2013 launch of the retooled observer program depends on getting a $3.8 million jumpstart from Congress. Alaska is the only state where for more than 20 years, the seafood industry has paid for fishery observer coverage. Sen. Mark Begich said it is time for the federal government to kick in a little. “We’ve been doing it all along with our own money. This is an important national resource it is a small amount that can be added to make sure we maintain our sustainable fisheries,” Begich said at a press conference. “The good news is that it has made it through the process to date, which is very positive. They are working under the financial limitations and caps of the budget, so that’s good.” Alaska opinions A statewide poll of 802 Alaska voters done last month asked opinions of various public figures, industries and issues. The poll was done by research powerhouse Strategies 360 for the Bristol Bay Native Corp. and included voters from all demographics and regions. A sampler: 54 percent said they believe Alaska is heading in the right direction; 27 percent said the economy and jobs is the most important issue facing Alaska today. The fishing industry got the highest favorable rating at 79 percent followed by the Alaska gas pipeline at 75 percent, and the oil and gas industry at 66 percent. Sen. Lisa Murkowski had a 61 percent favorable rating, Gov. Sean Parnell was at 52 percent, Rep. Don Young at 51 percent and Sen. Mark Begich at 48 percent. The Alaska legislature had a 45 percent favorable rating by voters. The proposed Pebble mine ranked last among voters with an unfavorable rating of 54 percent.  Meanwhile, as exploration at the Pebble site expands, BBNC President and CEO Jason Metrokin said he worries that the state Department of Natural Resources simply doesn’t have the manpower to monitor a project the size of Pebble, along with other big development projects. “From what we’ve seen the DNR has not been able to handle sizeable projects that are on the time and horizon today. The project is expanding, the potential footprint is getting larger, and there is a lot of activity happening in Bristol Bay today. We are not convinced the state is doing its part to monitor this exploration,” Metrokin said in a phone interview. “But beyond that, if the Pebble project continues to go forward and they get into a permit application phase late next year, is the state prepared to take on that process, knowing that there are several other development projects happening around the state? The DNR should be gearing up and staffing up and resourcing up now in order to prepare for something like that, and we just don’t see that happening.”

Rising seafood values boost tax coffers; ADFG pushing internships

Millions more dollars are being pumped into Alaska communities and state coffers by the seafood industry. All fish/shellfish catches are assessed a 3 percent raw fish tax with half remaining in the local community and half going to the State general fund disbursed at the whim of the Legislature. Based on big boosts in landings and values for many major fisheries last year and this year, there will be lots more Alaska fish bucks to go around. The just-released Fisheries of the U.S. Report by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that 11 Alaska ports made the top 50 list for seafood landings and values in 2010. For the 22nd year in a row, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska ranked No. 1 with more than a half billion pounds of seafood crossing its docks, an increase of 9 million pounds from 2009. Kodiak dropped from 4th to 5th place with deliveries of 325.3 million pounds, up from 283 million pounds in 2009. Cordova ranked No. 8 with landings soaring to nearly 148 million pounds compared to 45.5 million in 2009. Similarly, Seward (No. 17) deliveries jumped from 29.3 million pounds to 75.4 million. Six Alaska ports were in the top 10 in terms of seafood value. New Bedford, Mass., held on to the lead for the 11th consecutive year at $306 million, thanks to pricey scallops. Dutch Harbor ranked No. 2 for value at $163 million (an increase of $3.4 million), and Kodiak bumped up a notch to third place with seafood values topping $128 million, a $24.3 million increase from 2009. Naknek-King Salmon ranked No. 4 for value at $101 million, up from $76 million. Cordova was No. 5 with seafood values of $84.3 million, a $51.5 million increase. Seward ranked No. 9 with landings valued at $69.2 million, compared to $33.1 million the previous year. Sitka came in at No. 10 with seafood values totaling $62.2 million, a $10 million increase over 2009. Other Alaska ports making the top 50 list for landings and values include Petersburg, Ketchikan, Kenai, Homer and Juneau. Other highlights: • The dockside (ex-vessel) price for fish increased 16 percent and 18 percent for shellfish. • US seafood landings of 8.2 billion pounds were up 2.4 percent; the dock value of $4.5 billion was a 13.3 percent increase ($600 million) from 2009. • U.S. consumers spent $80.2 billion for seafood products last year, a $5 billion increase. • Salmon rose from 3rd to 2nd place as the most valuable US fishery at nearly $555 million, second to crab at $573 million. Rounding out the top 10 for value: scallops, lobster, shrimp, pollock, halibut, clams, cod and flatfish. • The value of processed seafood products was $8.5 billion, an increase of $774 million over 2009. • The overall value added to the economy by the U.S. seafood industry in 2010 was $41.4 billion. • The majority of the U.S. seafood supply — 86 percent — was imported from other countries. Americans ate slightly less seafood last year – 15.8 pounds per person, down from 16 pounds in 2009, reflecting the lowest rate of seafood consumption since 2002. Where in the world do they eat the most fish? The Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean at 314 pounds per capita. The annual U.S. fisheries report includes recreational fishing and much more. It’s a great read. Careers in the Last Frontier More than 20 percent of the staff at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could retire in the next five years, and a special team is going all out to attract new workers. “It’s an alarming statistic and the department has undertaken an ambitious recruitment program,” said Candice Bressler, ADFG Workforce Development Program Coordinator. “We are trying to get in the next generation of biologists, fisheries managers, wildlife professionals, accountants, across the board to come into the department.” In the past year the workforce team really ramped up its recruitment with 40 career fairs at Alaska high schools and colleges. Several new internship programs give hands on experience in numerous fields of interest. “It’s all about choosing your adventure,” Bressler said. “That’s what students like to hear.”  Students also like hearing they get paid well for their internships, plus college credits. (Paying student interns is almost unheard of, Bressler said.) ADFG pays $13 to $25 per hour based on high school and upper graduate levels. Ultimately, the goal is to show there are good careers right here in Alaska, Bressler added, and hook a new generation into ADFG. “We are really trying to tap into what is in our back yard,” she said. “To maintain the great work that we do is to have Alaskans in those positions, folks who are truly committed to our mission in maintaining the resources.” Find out more at [email protected] Fish Watch As expected, catches of red king crab at Bristol Bay are likely to take a big drop, possibly down 35 percent from the 15 million pound quota in 2010. That could mean a catch of less than 10 million pounds when the season opens Oct. 15. Conversely, the Bering Sea snow crab harvest could increase by 20 percent to more than 65 million pounds, 10 million pounds more than last season. Fish managers will announce the crab quotas in a few weeks … All gear types are back out on the water fishing for Pacific cod, also called true cod and gray cod. This year Alaska fishermen have a total codfish harvest of nearly 800 million pounds, up 30 percent from last year. At an average price of 40 cents per pound, the fishery will be worth more than $320 million at the docks. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit for more information or contact [email protected]

Salmon forecast still coming up short on scattered pink returns

Alaska’s salmon harvest has topped 170 million fish and it is pretty clear by now that disappointing pink catches in prime producing regions will pull the season up short of the projected 203 million salmon. Southeast is the pink salmon winner with catches topping 61 million humpies so far, blowing past projections of 55 million. In fact, combined good salmon returns, hefty pink weights and strong prices have pushed the value of the Southeast seine fishery alone to $100 million. The pink fishery was topsy-turvy with the bulk of the catch coming from northern districts. Pink salmon prices were averaging 42 cents, up from 30 cents last summer. Elsewhere, pink salmon catches were lackluster – at Prince William Sound they were nearing 30 million, 8 million shy of projections. At Kodiak, the pink season has just been strange, said biologist James Jackson at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “It’s been one of those years that really makes you scratch your head and wonder what happened,” he told KMXT. “We either had record or well above average pink salmon returns to Alitak, the east side of Kodiak and even around town, and then had record low returns to the west side, Afognak, and at the hatchery.” Jackson said Kodiak fishermen, “will be lucky,” to get 17 million pinks, a shortfall of 13 million fish. When it’s all over, Alaska’s 2011 salmon harvest will be comparable to last year’s catch of 168 million fish — but the value could top its ex-vessel value of $534 million. Speaking of values … The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute pegs the value of Alaska’s total commercial seafood harvest in 2010 at $1.7 billion, a 22 percent increase over the 2009 harvest of $1.4 billion. Salmon competition Alaska salmon will face competition in world markets from Russia, where a record harvest could reach 555,000 tons of mostly pinks and chums (more than 1 billion pounds). Looking ahead, Intrafish reports that global salmon production could rise by 15 percent in 2012, largely driven by a 60 percent growth in farmed salmon output from Chile. World production of Atlantic salmon will approach 1.8 million tons next year, more than twice the growth from the past year. Reward for research gear Research equipment that provides ocean data alongside with halibut stock assessments is sitting on the ocean floor and scientists hope to get it back. Called water column profilers, they were deployed two years ago by fish scientists, thanks to a half-million dollar grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. A profiler was dropped at each of nearly 1,280 survey stations between Oregon and the Bering Sea and along the Aleutian Islands. “It goes down through the water column and measures salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll content. So it gives us a fairly good snapshot of the whole coast,” said IPHC director Bruce Leaman. “It is a very important data set and we are sharing it with many other users.” Most of the profilers have been retrieved, but one was lost in 2009 off the east side of Kodiak Island; another disappeared this summer on the south side of Adak. The 60-pound profilers are housed in a steel cage and could be snagged on the bottom. Leaman said they might be detected with depth sounders. “Particularly the one off Kodiak Island,” Leaman told KDLG. “It doesn’t have floats on top, but it’s sitting on hard bottom and you would get a little bit of a bump. The one that is off Adak, you can actually see the floats on your echo sounder if you’re going by.” The IPHC is offering a $1,500 reward for each lost profiler. “We hope that is incentive enough so people will actually go looking for them. It’s a small thing in a large area, but we have some fairly precise location information,” Leaman said. “We would dearly love to get them back because they have important data, plus they are reusable and are very durable pieces of equipment.” State stall Concerned Alaskans are telling the Parnell Administration to stick to its own rules. Cook Inletkeeper and Trustees for Alaska have fired off letters to the governor and the federal Office of Surface Mining, or OSM, questioning why the state Department of Natural Resources is dragging its feet on its decision-making. At issue is a January 2010 petition that asks DNR to designate lands within the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for large-scale surface coal mining. The proposed mine would be the first to mine completely through 11 miles of a wild salmon stream. After numerous delays, DNR promised a decision by June 3, 2011, 45 days after the statutory deadline. There still was no decision by Sept. 2.  In its Aug. 29 letter to OSM, Trustees for Alaska wrote: “DNR failed to offer any subsequent time-frame for the issuance of a final decision or explanation to Petitioners as to the significantly extended delay. … DNR has violated the statutory mandate that the ULP (unsuitable lands petition) be decided within 60 days.” The petition is close to coming out, “with just a few details to finalize,” said Russell Kirkham, DNR’s coal regulatory program manager. “Then it has to go before DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan for a full review,” Kirkham told the Homer Tribune. “It can’t be discussed until the merit review process and the decision document are finished.” Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson said if there is no response, the next level is to seek legal recourse for unmet deadlines, amounting to a violation of laws on behalf of the State of Alaska.

Japan quake rattles seafood markets as Sitka herring roe fishery begins

Alaska’s most lucrative roe herring fishery is set to get under way any day in Sitka Sound, starting a circuit that each year swims its way all the way to Nome. The herring are valued for their eggs, and harvesters get paid according to the amount of roe in the fish. The Sitka Sound harvest could approach 19,500 thousand tons for the fishery’s 50 permit holders. Last year after price adjustments they got $690 per ton for their catches, making the fishery worth more than $12 million at the docks, far more than halibut or black cod. The Bristol Bay roe herring fishery in Togiak was worth about $4 million to seiners and setnetters in 2010, and more than $2 million at Kodiak. But virtually all of the roe herring goes to one buyer: Japan. In fact, Japan is Alaska’s top customer for all its seafood; Japan imports more seafood than any other nation in the world. The northeast coast of Japan hardest hit by the horrific quake and tsunami is home to the bulk of Japan’s seafood industry, for both fishing and processing especially roe products. "You have to look at this on a species specific level," said John Sackton. "And for us we have black cod, crab, herring roe, salmon roe, Bristol Bay salmon, pollock and cod. The real question is what’s happening in those species, and to what extent have the Japanese been driving the market. "You can rank them and say that the Japanese drive the market for herring roe and pollock roe. After that they drive the market for crab, and their approach to surimi has an impact on the pollock market. But when you get down to fish like Alaska salmon, and black cod, the Japanese are not really the market leaders anymore. There are plenty of other buyers who will step in and purchase those products." Sackton said the "buying psychology" might shift as the Japanese focus on rebuilding. "It could be both the buyers and Japanese consumers don’t feel this is a time to focus on luxury goods and they want to put their resources elsewhere," he said. Sackton and other experts said impacts on seafood trade are too soon to tell. Meanwhile, fish prices are the last thing on people’s minds in Japan’s fishing towns. Japan is a huge fishing nation in its own right, and an estimated 6,000 fishing vessels, 1,100 seafood facilities, 40,000 workers and 40,000 fishermen lost their livelihoods, according to the Japan Blog by Intrafish. The blog said seafood production plants are either gone or buried, and the coastal towns are piled high with rotting fish from the washed out plants and cold storages. The region’s fishing grounds also have been polluted by debris from buildings and concrete pulled into the sea when the tsunami waves retreated. While damages to big Japanese corporations like Sony and Honda are grabbing the headlines, the brunt of the destruction was borne by small coastal businesses, fishing fleets and seafood processors, says a powerful Wall Street Journal article called "Fishing Town Suffers, Caught in Waves’ Wake." It’s a shocker because it could be us. Chillin’ in the Bay Improving fish quality was the driving goal of Bristol Bay fishermen when they formed a Regional Seafood Development Association five years ago. Each year more than 1,800 drift netters pay a 1 percent tax on their salmon catches to support the effort, which is yielding more than $1 million a year. The BBRSDA has put its money primarily into ice. An annual survey of Bay processors by Northern Economics shows the percentage of chilled salmon deliveries nearly doubled from 2008 to 2010, from 24 percent to 47 percent. The better quality meant more Bristol Bay salmon were turned into frozen or fillet products, instead of lower valued cans. Last summer 33 percent went into the can compared to 46 percent in 2008. Many Bristol Bay processors provide ice to their fleets, and ice barges and ice machines are placed strategically in the Bay, said Bob Waldrop, BBRSDA director. "We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of pounds of fish chilled by ice, from about 6 million in 2008 to 17 million pounds last year. That’s nearly tripled," Waldrop said. Overall, chilled fish made up 41 percent of the total Bristol Bay salmon catch; with unchilled fish at 59 percent. That’s down from 64 percent in 2009. The drift net fleet provided about 90 percent of the chilled fish. Other findings: Fishermen had 155 tons of daily ice production by processors, 23 percent of total ice produced. That’s almost twice last year, and is an increase of 66 tons per day. The amount of salmon processed outside Bristol Bay continues to decline, down from 16.8 percent in 2008, to 7.2 percent in 2009, to 2.1 percent in 2010. Find the complete survey results at Fish meal milestone Ocean Beauty is being recognized at the Boston Seafood Show for reaching the 10 million meal mark in contributions to U.S. food banks through Feeding America. The recognition comes from SeaShare, a nonprofit that works within the seafood industry to generate large volumes for hunger-relief. SeaShare has donated more than150 million seafood meals to national food bank networks since 1994. Protein rich foods are the most difficult for food banks to obtain.

E-Stop offers fishermen a safety lifeline

The most common piece of equipment on a fishing boat is also the most dangerous: the winch. "Fishermen tell us it is the most powerful thing on the boat," said Ted Teske, a health communications specialist with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. "If that thing gets a hold of you when you’re pursing a line or moving a line, it will not stop and it won’t let go. It will end up tearing your arm off or breaking your neck or ripping you apart." NIOSH research shows that a high number of traumatic fishing injuries come from entanglement in a rotating winch, especially on seine vessels. If a fisherman is working on deck and gets pulled into the winch, it pulls him away from the controls to stop it, which are mounted on the back of the wheelhouse. Teske helped develop a simple device called an E-Stop, emergency stop, that interrupts the flow of hydraulic fluid to the winch and locks it in place. Teske said it is a simple mechanism used by a lot of manufacturing processes, such as production lines in the automotive industry. Many longline fishermen use an E-Stop to put the brakes on their gear if someone gets snagged and goes over. "It’s mounted on top of the winch horns so as you’re pulled in, it’s right there in front of you like a game show buzzer and you can slap it to lock the winch in place," he said. "So you’re still wrapped up but you’re not going round and round multiple times, and crewmembers can come and reset the system and back the winch off to get you untangled." James Burton of Cordova, skipper of the F/V Keta, knows firsthand how deadly the common tool can be. His brother, Carl, got caught in a winch in 2008, and will never regain full use of his arm and hand. That accident prompted Burton to be the first in line for an E-Stop when they became available 2008. In fact, his was the first boat to purchase and have one installed at Emerald Marine in Seattle, and it served as the model for a "how to" instruction manual for the distributor. "The winches are so dangerous and I know so many people who have been hurt by one," Burton said. "Those things can pull 7,000 pounds and if you have a 200-pound guy wrapped up in it, it doesn’t slow down a bit and rips you apart in the process." Burton said he feels disheartened that so few fishermen have opted for an E-Stop. "I just don’t know how to convince people to get something that makes so much sense. Everyone has excuses," he said. "The guys don’t want to spend money on anything that’s not going to catch them more fish or make things more efficient on their boat. It’s so cheap compared to losing your life or a limb or having a couple fingers ripped off. We all know guys who have been caught in a deck winch and for whatever reason, people still act like it’s never going to happen to them." Ted Teske said NIOSH is targeting Alaska’s seine fleets to make them more aware of the E-Stop device, and plans to expand to other fisheries. "It can stop not just a winch, but any kind of hydraulically run equipment on a crabber or trawler," he said. The E-Stop comes in an easy-to-install kit with all materials included. Teske said he is hopeful the kits will be available soon in fishing ports.  MAP in peril? Fully half of the state university’s marine advisory programs are in danger of closing their doors within a year due to funding shortfalls. "Five of the positions will be out of funding in the next year since they are paid solely with grant funds," said marine advisory program director Paula Cullenberg. Those include Nome, Dillingham, Unalaska, Cordova and Petersburg. The sixth position is in Kodiak, an office that has been empty for 13 years. The program has requested a $614,000 appropriation from the Alaska Legislature to fund the six coastal offices. "That would represent a permanent commitment by the university to the position in each community and region," Cullenberg said. Fish bits A report by First Research in the United Kingdom says that the U.S. seafood processing sector consists of about 650 companies, with annual revenues of $9 billion. There are roughly 2,500 U.S. seafood distributors, with yearly revenues of $12 billion. Neither sector is very concentrated, the report says. The largest processors include Connors Brothers/Bumble Bee Foods, Los Angeles-based Red Chamber, Trident Seafoods and Maruha Nichiro’s U.S. companies, which include Alyeska and Western Alaska Seafoods. Altogether the 50 largest processors account for about 45 percent of all sales; while in the distribution sector, the 50 largest seafood distributors account for about 33 percent of total sales. Product revenues are led by frozen fish at 30 percent; frozen shellfish at 20 percent; fresh fish and shellfish at 15 percent; canned seafood also accounts for 15 percent of the total products sold. Speaking of selling products: Safeway, one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, is the latest to opt for earth-friendly fish. The company is starting a traceability system to screen out suppliers of seafood products not meeting its new sustainable seafood policy. Safeway also has discontinued the sale of any fish that are deemed to be overfished, such as grouper, red snapper and monkfish.  

Fishing gear that helps anglers be smarter

The call is out again for new ideas for fishing gears that help fishermen "fish smarter." The International Smart Gear competition, launched by the World Wildlife Fund in 2004, aims to inspire gear innovations that help fishermen retain their target catch while letting marine mammals, turtles, birds or small fish swim away. A high-rise trawl net called the eliminator took home the $30,000 top prize in 2007, the most recent year the competition was held. The net, made in Rhode Island, uses large mesh openings in the front and underbelly to reduce bycatch of cod in haddock fisheries. The smart gear competition took a year off to put that gear to work out on the water, said WWF Program Director Mike Osmond. "After the 2007 competition we decided that having it every year didn’t allow us enough time to work with the winning ideas and get them to a stage where they could be adopted by the industry. Now we’ll have it every two years," Osmond said. In the case of the eliminator, it was bureaucracy that kept it on the beach. "The net was shown to be very effective for several years and they had been trying to get it through the bureaucratic process. And because NOAA is one of the supporters of the smart gear competition, we were able to help them navigate their way through that process," Osmond said. The eliminator was regulated for commercial use in the U.S. last August and is now being trialed in the U.K. and the North Sea. Also undergoing trials is an innovation from one of the two $10,000 smart gear runners up: a nested cylinder device from Mississippi that uses light and water flow to reduce bycatch of red snapper by up to 80 percent in the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery. An Argentinean entry won for a simple plastic cone that attaches to trawl cables to keep away sea birds. The 2007 smart gear contest attracted 70 entries from 22 countries, but only one from Alaska (down from four in 2006). "We would love to get more ideas from Alaska," Osmond said. "Fishing is such a huge industry in Alaska, and obviously there are a lot of smart fishermen there. I can only think they don’t need the money. But $30,000 isn’t anything to sneeze at." The competition is open to all. But it’s the guys out on the water who have the best ideas, Osmond said. "They’ve come up with the ideas to reduce bycatch, and they’ve put it into practical and it works," he said. The smart gear winners will be chosen in September by an international judging panel at the International Fishing Exposition in Spain. Deadline to enter is June 30. Best seafood bash The 16th annual Symphony of Seafood is poised to debut 10 new products at two events, in Seattle and Anchorage. On Feb. 10 at the Fare Start banquet facility in Seattle, the seafood products will be judged in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. "One of the noteworthies is a smoked salmon parfait by Sea Bear Seafoods," said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the popular event. Seattle Symphony goers will choose a People’s Choice award, but no winners will be announced until the event moves to Anchorage for its "gala soiree" sampling bash on Feb. 19 at the Captain Cook. The annual event attracts entries from both large and small Alaska seafood companies. Diamond Lodge Smokehouse of King Salmon, for example, has been a grand prize winner for its smoked halibut, and Boreal Fisheries of St. Mary’s also has taken home awards for its smoked king salmon strips. Winners in each category get a free trip to the International Boston Seafood show in March. Tickets for Symphony of Seafood are on sale now at Center Tix. They sell out fast. Fish as economic fuel Fishery issues don’t often grab the attention of most state and federal lawmakers, and many are not aware of how seafood drives economies all across Alaska. A new report called "The Seafood Industry in Alaska’s Economy" provides a one stop shop that outlines the importance of fishing to Alaska and the nation. "A lot of reports come out by the Department of Commerce, NOAA and other sources, but they don’t pull all the components into one place. That was our goal," said Dave Benton, director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, one of the trade groups that commissioned the report by Northern Economics of Anchorage. The other groups are the At-sea Processors Association and Pacific Seafood Processors Association. "The message that comes through for Alaska is very dramatic," Benton added. Fishing provides some $5.8 billion worth of economic activity, 78,000 direct and indirect jobs, and 80 percent of the manufacturing that goes on in Alaska is accountable to the seafood industry, according to the report. Alaska is ninth in the world in terms of production, and provides 62 percent of U.S. seafood landings as well. "That’s a pretty big record, and we’ve done it with no overfished stocks and on a sustainable basis for decades," he said. Other findings: Alaska provides 96 percent of all U.S. salmon landings. Alaska’s seafood industry provides more jobs than oil, gas and mining combined.

Few seafood bills in Juneau

Longtime Alaskan and fisheries historian Bob King is heading to Washington, D.C., as Sen. Mark Begich’s point person on fisheries and several other capacities. "My specific job responsibilities include staffing Sen. Begich on his appointment to the Commerce Committee, which includes a number of things that are really important to Alaska, such as fisheries, the Arctic and the Coast Guard," King said in a phone interview from Juneau. King was news director at KDLG in Dillingham for nearly 20 years, then moved to Juneau when he was tapped as press secretary for Governor Tony Knowles. Most recently, he’s been director of the marine debris programs spearheaded by the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation. King also has just completed a history of Alaska’s fisheries for the state Department of Fish and Game for the state’s 50th anniversary. "In my work over the years I’ve gotten to know people from the small boat fisheries and the setnetters all the way to the large at-sea processors," King said. "I really have a sense of the importance of this industry from the big boats to the small boats that I will take back to Washington, D.C., and put to good use for the benefit of Alaska." "Bob is well known throughout Alaska for his great expertise and knowledge about the fishing industry, but also in his capacity to look at many other issues we will be dealing with through the Commerce Committee. It’s a huge plus," Begich said via phone from D.C. "He also has interest in one of my primary areas of focus: climate change and the impact it has on Alaska." King said that it is really tough to leave Alaska, even temporarily. He said he is honored to join Begich in Washington, and that President Barack Obama’s words have resonated with him. "When he talked about a new era of responsibility for citizens to give our all to the difficult tasks that lie ahead; I’m anxious to be part of it," he said. King will join the Begich team in D.C. in early February. Few fish so far The Alaska Legislature convened Jan. 20, and there were few fishery-related bills so far. But that doesn’t mean much at this point. "Just because there are no bills the first week doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a lot of fun to watch for the next three months," said fisheries analyst Bob Tkacz, who has been watch dogging the Legislature for 15 years. Overriding everything this year is money. Last year there was plenty, but that’s not the case now. Big Oil bankrolls 90 percent of Alaska’s revenues and Gov. Sarah Palin’s budget is based on $70 per barrel oil; the real price is closer to $40 per barrel. "We’re in a budget cutting year this time around," Tkacz said. "The bigger picture I believe is that this is Gov. Palin’s first budget cutting session in any of her executive experiences. So the big picture is how she is going to approach budget cutting and how much money we actually have." It’s unlikely, for example, that the state will again pony up the $6 million or so to cover federal funding shortfalls in co-managed fisheries, such as Bering Sea crab. That could mean fewer surveys and less research data that managers depend on to set catch quotas. Tkacz said the new make up of the Legislature this year also raises some red flags when it comes to fisheries. "Anchorage and the Mat-Su have hugely important seats in the committees that are really important to fishermen," he said. The House Resources Committee, for example, is chaired by Republicans Craig Johnson of Anchorage and Mark Neuman of Wasilla, two leaders of the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force who are both critical of commercial fishing catch quotas. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, also is a critic of commercial fishing in the Inlet. On the Senate side, Resources is controlled by Democrat Bill Wielechowski and Republican Lesil McGuire, both of Anchorage, who also is no fan of the fishing industry in Cook Inlet. "There is incredible potential for game-playing here," Tkacz said. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, heads the House Special Committee on Fisheries. Other fish friendly lawmakers are at Senate Finance, co-chaired by Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. Speaker of the House is Mike Chenault from Nikiski and Gary Stevens of Kodiak as Senate president. Both are Republicans. "So the fishing industry has strong support at the very top, but what kinds of bills will get to the top is a huge question," Tkacz said. "Who controls the gavel dictates where things go." Tkacz’s Laws for the Sea provides an in-depth look at fish policies and personalities each week during the legislative session. Slow down, save fuel A survey by Alaska Sea Grant and United Fishermen of Alaska asked fishermen to share how they dealt with the skyrocketing cost of diesel fuel, which topped $5 a gallon last summer, and to share energy saving ideas. Many of the 126 respondents said they fished less, skipped openers, fished closer to home or ended their season earlier. Other findings: 43 percent said between 10 percent and 20 percent of their gross income was spent on fuel last year. Nearly 62 percent said they hired fewer or no crew, and crew shares were lower. Some 62 percent also said they believed fishery management decisions affected their fuel consumption, but more than half said managers should not make decisions based on the price of fuel. In terms of fuel saving techniques, 76 percent said they throttled back and slowed down. Some 77 percent cited maintaining engines and fuel systems. Also popular, good route planning and timing, keeping a clean hull to reduce drag and properly tuning propellers. Several fishermen credited buying fuel from processors, who bought in bulk and passed on the savings. Many expressed interest in getting help to compare different engines and learning how to use energy saving devices like flow meters.

Agencies aim to compile labor data on Alaska fishermen

A project aimed at compiling labor data on Alaska’s fishing crews was gaining traction as a mix of state and federal agencies got down to business last week. It’s estimated that about 20,000 crewmembers work on Alaska’s fishing grounds throughout each year, but as self-employed workers, no wage reports are collected by the state. The lack of job data means deckhands have fallen through the cracks in terms of recognizing their economic importance to the fishing industry. "All we know is that someone buys a crew license. We don’t know if they fish, what they fish for, how many fisheries they participate in, for how long - any of that kind of stuff," said Geron Bruce, deputy director of the state Division of Commercial Fisheries. "You can’t really estimate the total economic impact of commercial fishing unless you know something about the earnings and employment patterns for the crewmembers, who are such an important part of the work force." The lack of data makes it difficult for both harvesters and communities to apply for economic assistance or benefit from other state and federal programs, said Mike Catsi, director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal League. SWAMC has championed the crew-counting effort and helped get a $150,000 appropriation from the Legislature last year to jumpstart the project. The federal government, which co-manages several of Alaska’s largest fisheries, is also providing funding. The lack of deckhand data results in an incomplete picture of how commercial fishing compares to other industries. It also means fishermen have been on the losing end of new management plans that dole out shares of the catch. "Individual crewmembers want to be able to document their participation in certain fisheries so that if future rationalization programs come along, they have a better basis to make their case," Bruce said. "They will be able to show that they are also dependent on these fisheries and should get some share of the quota, that their interests need to be considered more than they have been in the past." "I think it’s a great idea. This is a legitimate job," said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak fisherman. "But a lot of guys won’t want to provide any information because they don’t want a paper trail for the IRS." Deckhand Isaac Milligan agreed. "All the fish passes through our hands. We need to be given credit for our contributions, even if some fishermen don’t want to be counted." The crew data could be collected via fish tickets or electronic landing reports already in place. Bruce said the next step is to form an advisory committee of up to 15 industry stakeholders that represents a good cross section of Alaska fisheries, from small skiffs on the Yukon to big Bering Sea crab boats. "And we really need to broaden the discussion to include more regions," said Bruce. "Basically, it has been focused in Kodiak and the Aleutians areas, but for many other regions, it’s not even on their radar screen. But it’s going to be a statewide program and will affect everyone. That’s why we want to have a lot of involvement in the process, so we can start building a basis of support and understanding from the very beginning." Jan Conitz of Juneau has been named project leader. The multi-agency committee at its Jan. 21 meeting was to begin developing a framework on data collection options to present to the stakeholders group this spring. Fewer halibut, later start Alaska’s halibut fishery will get off to a later start and fishermen will haul in fewer fish this year. The catch limits for waters ranging from the West Coast and British Columbia to the Bering Sea were announced earlier this month by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in Vancouver, British Columbia. The total halibut catch for Alaska was set at 45.5 million pounds, down from 50 million in 2008. Longliners in Southeast Alaska, who were bracing for another 30 percent cut to their halibut catches to just 4 million pounds, got a bit of a break at 5.02 million pounds. Alaska’s biggest halibut hole - Area 3A, the Central Gulf - took a bigger hit than expected to 21.7 million pounds, down about 1 million. The catch at Area 3B in the Western Gulf remains the same at 10.9 million pounds. A larger bite than expected also came out of Area 4A, the Aleutians region, at 2.55 million pounds. Area 4B of the Bering Sea got a small increase to nearly 1.9 million pounds. Farther west in Areas 4CDE, the catch was boosted slightly to 7.63 million pounds of halibut. The mood at the IPHC annual meeting was somber, said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. "Both the IPHC and the industry are concerned that there seems to be an ongoing decline in the overall halibut biomass. And there was general acceptance of the new coast-wide assessment model, but still quite a bit of concern and questions about how they apportion the fish," he said in a phone call from the Vancouver meeting. The halibut fishery is set to open on March 21, a few weeks later than usual. "The processors argued for a later opening so they could get rid of some frozen inventory," Bowen said. "Most of the fishermen wanted an earlier opening date so they could get more fresh fish to market, but it was a compromise." Oil spill commemorative March 24 marks the 20th anniversary of North America’s largest oil spill - when the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of Alaska crude into Prince William Sound. Communities down stream were also shattered by the spill - notably, Kodiak. "Kodiak was sort of forgotten by the media and by anyone not in Kodiak. A lot of people didn’t even know we had an oil spill here, but it was a huge event," said Toby Sullivan, director of the Kodiak Maritime Museum and its oil spill commemorative project. Exxon denied that the oil would ever reach Kodiak, but by May fishermen were seeing differently. "Some of us were out herring fishing on the west side and we started seeing oil, and it also started showing up at Shuyak in pretty heavy amounts. So people in Kodiak were pretty upset about it and they wanted a clean up," Sullivan said. Frustrated by the brush off, local setnetters organized a protest march to get Exxon’s attention. A manifesto was read at the oil spill briefing in the high school auditorium that was attended by hundreds each day. "It was very powerful and the whole audience went crazy and the Exxon guy was stunned - he was like a deer in the headlights. He put down the microphone and walked out of the room. Exxon evacuated Kodiak for two days because they were afraid of violence due to the high emotional level," Sullivan said. Within 48 hours businesses closed their doors and more than 1,000 islanders marched in the pouring rain. "That got Exxon’s attention for sure," Sullivan said, "And that’s how they started a clean up around Kodiak." Sullivan is compiling a riveting display of images from Kodiak, many from 70 videotapes found stashed away for 20 years. Anyone with pictures are encouraged to submit them for possible inclusion in the display and the Maritime Museum archives.

West Coast managers meet to tangle over catches

Halibut managers and industry stakeholders meet next week in Vancouver, British Columbia, to decide on catch limits for this year’;s upcoming fishery, which usually begins in early March. Harvesters are bracing for a 10 percent coast-wide reduction to 54 million pounds, covering fishing grounds from the West Coast and British Columbia to the farthest reaches of the Bering Sea. Alaska always gets the lion’;s share of the halibut catch and will get 46 million pounds of the fish, if the International Pacific Halibut Commission goes along with the scientists’; recommendations. That’;s down from 50 million pounds last year. Southeast Alaska fishermen would see the biggest hit - a catch of just 4.5 million pounds is a drop of nearly 30 percent for the second year in a row. The IPHC will also consider several new management proposals. One requests the continued use of electric or electric-assisted sport fishing reels to benefit older or disabled anglers, especially in deeper waters. It says not doing so discriminates against people with physical limitations. Two proposals ask for clarifications of filleting sport-caught halibut at sea. Another asks that qualified harvesters be allowed to retain halibut taken in pots along with sablefish in area of the Bering Sea. Pots are frequently used by fishermen instead of hook and line gear to prevent killer whales from stealing the sablefish, but current rules demand that all halibut taken as bycatch in the pots must be discarded. The halibut can’;t be safely returned to the sea, the proposal states, because the whales gather to quickly gobble them up. Other proposals ask that size limits for halibut be eliminated, and for the state of Alaska to develop a harvest tag program for all recreational anglers to get more accurate counts of their catches. The IPHC meets Jan. 13-16 in Vancouver. Slow start for snow crab The Bering Sea snow crab fishery officially opens in mid-October but it doesn’;t really get going until mid-January. Low cod prices were expected to prompt more boats to target snow crab during the early weeks of the season. But encroaching sea ice is getting things off to a slow start all around, said state fishery manager Forrest Bowers in Dutch Harbor. “There are 39 vessels registered for the snow crab fishery and some people that normally fish cod are on the fence about whether to fish cod or crab. Another part of the equation is that there is quite a bit of sea ice forming in the northern Bering Sea and ice in St. Paul harbor. So that is another factor that is influencing decisions by fishermen,” Bowers said. The new “rationalized” quota share management plan requires that a portion of all deliveries must be made in specific regions, and the bulk of the northern crab catch is earmarked for St. Paul. Bowers said the longer season means fishermen aren’;t forced to compete with the sea ice that is now plugging the harbor. “The season runs from Oct. 15 through May,” Bowers said, “so there is ample opportunity to harvest the crab and deliver in the north region when weather and ice conditions allow for it.” Crabbers and most processors settled on a base price of $1.40 per pound, down from an average $1.58 a pound last season. The snow crab market is weaker this year, said Greg White, a negotiator for the crabbers’; Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents about 70 percent of the king and snow crab caught in the Bering Sea. White added that snow crab prices seem to move on a three-year cycle. “What happens is that it gets a little too expensive, and then retailers stop promoting it as a special item. Then inventories build up and prices start dropping because people need to move the crab, and eventually it gets to a level where it’;s again capable of being promoted effectively at the retail level. Then demand goes up, inventories fall and prices eventually increase. So there is a recurring cycle that usually plays out over a three-year period,” White said. Meanwhile, Forrest Bowers said up to 70 vessels would likely fish for snow crab and boats are leaving Dutch Harbor every day. The total catch quota is 58 million pounds, a decrease of 7 percent. Economics of fishing The U.S. commercial fishing industry is way ahead of sports angling in terms of the revenues and jobs it generates. That’;s from a new, user-friendly report just released by NOAA Fisheries that breaks down incomes, jobs, landings and all kinds of data for each coastal state through 2006. A glance at “Fisheries Economics of the U.S.” shows that the seafood industry, including harvesters, processors and sellers, generated $103 billion in sales in 2006, some $44 billion in income and 1.5 million jobs. That same year recreational fishing generated $82 billion in sales, $24 billion in income and 534,000 jobs. Halibut was the most popular fish to catch by sports anglers, followed by coho salmon. The report says that from 1997 to 2006, prices paid to Alaska fishermen increased 93 percent for cod, 72 percent for halibut and 58 percent for rockfish. In contrast, prices for herring decreased 45 percent and 29 percent for salmon. Alaska pollock contributed 60 percent of the state’;s total landings, far more than any other species. Alaska ranked fifth for total commercial seafood sales value at $3 billion, following California ($9.8 billion), Florida ($5.2 billion), Massachusetts ($4.4 billion), and Washington ($3.8 billion). The most commercial fishing jobs were generated in California (179,000), Florida (103,000), Massachusetts (83,000), Washington (75,000) and Texas (47,000). Recreational fishing generated its highest economic effect in sales and jobs in Florida, Texas, California, North Carolina and Louisiana. In all, commercial and recreational fishing in the U.S. generated more than $185 billion in sales and provided more than 2 million jobs. The report includes data on management plans, buybacks, price trends, even eco-labeling programs. It is the first in a new series designed to give the public better access to fisheries information. Next up is a report on U.S. fishing communities. Salmon celebrity Madonna has introduced more salmon into her diet to counteract the aging process. The British newspaper Mirror reports that instead of detoxing, the 50-year-old pop star will “retox” by increasing her cardio-intensive gym regime along with a diet overhaul. Madonna believes salmon has “age-defying properties” the Mirror said, and “her aim is to knock 12 years off her appearance.”


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