Laine Welch

Small-boat salmon fisheries the next to bear scrutiny of federal observers

Alaska has the strictest and largest fishery observer program in the world, primarily on large vessels that haul aboard huge catches of groundfish or crab. Observers work on board fishing boats throughout the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, collecting the samples and data that give a sketch of what’s really going on out there. The information is used to provide state and federal fishery scientists and policy makers with the status and health of the various stocks, so they can manage the fisheries wisely and effectively. Federal law requires the government to collect data on all activities that affect marine mammals. It’s common knowledge that Alaska’s groundfish fisheries are bearing the brunt of such data collection, as they’re the ones accused of taking too much food out of the mouths of endangered sea lions. But as predicted, small-boat salmon fisheries in parts of Alaska will be the next to bear the scrutiny of observers, as the feds ramp up programs on how set and drift gillnets "interact" with marine mammals. "Our bottom line is to make stock assessments and to come up with an estimate of fishing mortalities and injuries," said Amy Van Atten, a project director for the National Marine Fisheries Service. "We’ll look at how much fishing is going on, where in the water column, and how long the nets are soaked and picked," she said. "We’ll also look at everything that’s caught in the net, and collect samples to see what the large predators are feeding on." Salmon fishery observations have been spotty at best in Alaska in the past 10 years. Some coverage began in Prince William Sound in 1990-91, but the program "kind of got lost," Van Atten said. A "reconnaissance study" was expanded in 1995 to observe set and gillnet and some small purse seine fisheries in regions of Kodiak, Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet, Southeast and Yakutat, she said. These are regarded by NMFS as "Category Two" fisheries, meaning they are known to have a moderate level of interaction with marine mammals. Interestingly, trawlers are listed as a "Category Three," which denotes little or no interaction. In 1999/2000, a small salmon observer program was conducted in Cook Inlet, and next up is Kodiak in 2002. NMFS recently postponed a pilot program from starting there this summer in order to allow the affected fishermen to become more involved in its design and implementation. The program is expected to deploy up to 15 observers to cover about 30 days of fishing. The delay will also give Van Atten more time to survey the region and give her "more confidence about what I can expect observers to realistically achieve, and what results I can obtain," she said. Van Atten said she knows there will be continued resistance to the salmon observer program. "But it’s a federally mandated program and we have our jobs to do. We have to ensure that marine mammals are not being killed while a fishery is ongoing," she said. Van Atten said she understands the salmon fishermen’s fears that they could be next to feel the squeeze of restrictions designed to protect sea lions. She offered this consolation to Kodiak salmon harvesters: "I don’t expect there to be a problem, as I believe there is a relatively small take of marine mammals. Sea lions have never been reported taken in a gillnet in Kodiak. There have been reports of harbor porpoises, harbor seals and sea otters. What the data will do is provide evidence to appease everyone’s mind -- the scientists, managers and fishermen. This is not a high profile program that’s intended to expose the fisheries to environmentalists." Van Atten said if there are interactions with marine mammals in Kodiak, it won’t shut down the salmon fisheries. "If there’s a problem, recommendations will be brought forth by industry and fishermen on how to reduce interactions," she said. "We’ll work cooperatively on how to adjust fishing techniques." NMFS will meet with Kodiak salmon fishermen starting this month to begin plans for implementing the observer program next summer. Halibut road show The Board of Fish is sending out a scouting committee to Sitka, Kodiak, Cordova and Homer this month to hear comments about proposed subsistence regulations for halibut. Last October federal fish managers adopted options that defined eligibility, gear and daily limits. Gear could include up to 30 hooks on a longline per angler, with daily limits of up to 20 halibut per day. At the same time, the feds tasked the board with coming up with more recommendations. The full Fish Board will meet May 7 to 8 to formally adopt recommendations on halibut subsistence regulations for specific areas of the state. The recommendations will be presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its June 2001 meeting in Kodiak. Sea lion studies Some of the most far-reaching research on Steller sea lions is taking place close to home. The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has a coveted federal permit to study Stellers in captivity, and researchers are undertaking some of the largest and most comprehensive programs ever attempted. Since so much of the controversy surrounding sea lions involves their diet, the center’s core research project involves long-term feeding trials on three captive Stellers. The program also has pioneered the use of using remote-controlled video cameras to monitor sea lions every day in the wild, in this case on a rookery 35 miles away. PETA protest "Fishing Hurts," and, "Seafood Is Murder on Fish" are two of the messages that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals brought to the International Boston Seafood Show. Spokesperson Dawn Carr claims PETA advocates eradicating all forms of fishing, as well as the consumption of seafood. Carr said she believes that fish feel pain, have "neurochemical systems" like humans and sensitive nerve endings in their lips and mouths. Carr was recently quoted in The Wall Street Journal as equating serving seafood at the National Aquarium to "eating poodle burgers at a dog show."  

Price of salmon at the dock is just the beginning of what fish will eventually cost

Salmon fishermen often wonder why there is such a large difference between the prices they get and the prices they see quoted in markets, both at home and abroad. The Salmon Market Information Service offers this generalized background: A sale price has three major elements. These are the cost of fish, cost of manufacture and cost of shipping. The starting point for cost of fish is the ex-vessel price, the amount paid to fishermen at the dock. This price is not adjusted for taxes paid by fishermen. Cost of fish is the processor’s cost of raw material, adjusted for recovery rate. The raw fish tax of 3.3 percent is factored in, but no other expenses involved in making a finished product are included. To calculate the cost of fish, the amount paid is divided by pounds of finished product. If a processor bought 100 pounds of sockeye to make fillets, he would get 53 pounds of finished product. If he paid $1 per pound ex-vessel plus 3.3 percent tax, his cost is $103.30. Divide that by 53 pounds to calculate cost of fish: $1.95 per pound in this case. Cost of manufacture is the total of cost of fish, plus all other expenses involved in turning raw fish into finished product, packaged for shipment. Cost of manufacture is normally just called cost and is expressed in cents per pound of finished product. Information on processors’ cost of manufacture is not available to the public. Some processors are willing to share this information with fishermen and others, but most consider it confidential. Once fish has been purchased, processed and packaged, it is ready to be shipped. Shipping is the final element of what makes up a sale price, and is one of the most important items in a sales contract. When a seller and buyer agree on a price, that price includes the cost of getting it to a specific location. In some cases, price is "FOB plant" meaning there is no shipping cost included. In other cases the sale price includes shipping the product several thousand miles. There are 13 standard shipping terms that define exactly how far product will be shipped and exactly what expenses will be paid by the seller in the process of getting it there. Some of the most common are: FOB, meaning freight on board. The seller pays for the cost to deliver the goods to a named port of destination. If it’s FOB Seattle, for example, it means the shipper pays the cost of freight to that port. CFR means cost and freight, in which the seller pays cost of goods and freight to the named port of destination. The more common term used is C and F. CIF means cost, insurance and freight. The seller pays cost of goods, freight and insurance to bring the goods to the named port of destination, such as CIF Japan. FAS means free alongside ship, and the seller pays cost of goods, insurance, inland freight and all other expenses to deliver the goods alongside the vessel at the named destination. U.S. government data define value of seafood exports as FAS port of export, meaning the value is affected by point of departure from the country. A case of salmon exported via Boston, for example, will have higher value than if it left the country from Seattle. Value of the Boston-departure fish includes the cost of shipping it 2,500 miles from Seattle to Boston. More eco-label fish The Marine Stewardship Council has announced that the New Zealand hoki fishery has met its standards for a sustainable and well-managed fishery. The certification allows products from the fishery to bear the MSC sustainability eco-label. The hoki fishery is the fourth fishery certified so far by the MSC. More than two dozen fisheries are undergoing the certification process, including Alaska’s pollock fishery, which is the largest fishery in the United States. Other fisheries include South Georgia Patagonian Toothfish and the Burry Inlet Cockle Fishery in Southwest Wales. Last year, Alaska salmon was the second fishery to receive MSC certification. Hawaiian fleet idled A court order shutting down the Hawaiian longline fleet of 115 vessels went into effect on March 14. The fleet will remain inactive until May 31, in accordance with an Aug. 4 ruling by U.S. District Judge David Ezra. WorldCatch reports that the judge could lift the closure following the completion of an updated environmental impact statement for the fishery by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is expected to be completed by April 1. Resolutions have been drafted in both houses of the Hawaiian Legislature to urge Ezra to delay the closure. Western Pacific Fishery Management Council spokesperson Sylvia Spaulding said because the Hawaiian fleet operates on just a 7 percent profit, yielding a $50 million fishery in landed value, the closure would have a severe economic impact on the industry. "Right now, each day the fleet lands $180,000 worth of fish," she said. The closure is expected to cause severe repercussions in seafood markets, not only in Hawaii, but also on the U.S. mainland. Hawaiian markets are likely to be empty of fish for at least three weeks. Affected species include yellowfin, albacore and bigeye tuna, swordfish, Opah, Ono and other South Pacific species. Prices for tuna and other species could shoot up by more than 30 percent to 40 percent in the coming weeks, according to Roger Tasaka of Hilo Fish in Honolulu.  

Fewer sockeyes, chum part of state's forecast for this year's salmon season

Alaska’s salmon industry could get a boost in world markets if early projections for this season’s harvest hold true. State number crunchers are forecasting a fishery that’s similar to last year’s catch, with two important exceptions -- fewer sockeye and chum salmon. Preliminary projections peg the statewide harvest this year at roughly 142 million fish, down from last year’s forecast of 153 million. The actual catch fell well below that number, however, coming in at 136 million salmon worth $272 million at the docks. The numbers are still being tweaked, but state fish managers expect the following: 419,000 king salmon (up from last year’s catch of 360,000); 4.78 million coho (compared with last year’s catch of 4.2 million); only 15.3 million chum salmon (well below the 2000 take of nearly 25 million); 28.7 million sockeye (down from last year’s harvest of 33.5 million reds); and nearly 93 million pinks (up from 74 million last year). Of course, the only sure thing about preseason projections is that they’re likely to be wrong. Fishery scientists point to major regime shifts in the Bering Sea and North Pacific that directly affect salmon survival. That’s likely to continue to cause trouble for many species, most notably chums and king salmon in Western Alaska regions. The world’s biggest red salmon run at Bristol Bay also appears to be experiencing negative affects, presumably from changes in ocean conditions. That region is projected to once again yield a reduced harvest of just 17 million fish, down from roughly 21 million last year. Meanwhile, some Alaska fishermen are urging the federal government to restrict U.S. imports of Chilean farmed salmon during the prime harvesting months of May through September. The United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 24 fishing groups, claims Chile is flooding the U.S. market with lower priced salmon, thereby driving down prices for wild fish. Chile accounted for 49 percent of all U.S. salmon imports last year, up from 38 percent in 1999. According to Chris McDowell of the Salmon Market Information Service, Chile is the leader in salmon imports by a margin of 39 percent over its closest competitor, Canada. The two countries combined accounted for 83 percent of salmon import volume last year, or nearly 273 million pounds. McDowell said 91 percent of Chile’s volume is salmon fillets, compared with 16 percent for Canada. U.S. imports of Chilean salmon grew 229 percent between 1995 and 2000, while imports from Canada grew 60 percent during the same period. Call for better science Alaska legislators unanimously passed a resolution asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to use better science when curtailing fishing in the North Pacific. HJR 10, introduced by freshman representative Drew Scalzi of Homer, also declares legislative support for the restrictions now in place resulting from the controversial "biological opinion" on Steller sea lions published by NMFS last November and asks that agency to work with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop new regulations by the end of next year. The resolution declares that the reasons for declines in the Steller population are "poorly understood." It also states that NMFS "lacks an adequate scientific basis" for its regulations, "and has not explained why the restrictions are scientifically or legally necessary." The resolution further declares that the restrictions resulted in closures to the majority of the groundfish fisheries, caused losses of $170 million to fishing fleets and "immeasurable" economic losses to other businesses, harvesters, their families and in state and local tax revenues. The resolution now goes before the Senate Resources Committee. Halibut farming Halibut will be the next large-scale operation for fish farmers. That’s according to international aquaculture expert John Forster, who presented his findings recently to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. While technological and biological problems will prevent halibut from making it to market in large quantities in the next five years, Forster said after that all bets are off. According to the weekly publication Laws for the Sea, when asked if farmed halibut could "totally trounce wild halibut" in the next 20 years, Forster answered without hesitation: "Absolutely. I think halibut has it, within that time scale, to be a major farmed fish." He also suggested the time frame could be far shorter. A study on global prospects for halibut farming done by Forster for the state of Alaska in 1999 projected world production could reach 6.2 million pounds this year, and he said he stands by that estimate. Halibut farms are now operating in Norway, Iceland, Scotland and Nova Scotia, to name but a few places. The University of Maine is funding research and development of halibut farms in that state. Forster said halibut has many natural features that make it appealing to fish farmers. It utilizes feed very efficiently, meaning it’s very cost effective to grow in a farm environment and is also very resistant to common marine diseases.

Fisheries specialist leaves organic salmon label legacy

Industry advocate Kate Troll has left her job as fisheries specialist with the state Department of Community and Regional Affairs. During her three years on the job, Troll led the charge to make sure wild seafood would be included in new national organic standards. "Kate not only kept the door open, but went through the door on that one," a co-worker said. Troll also was involved from the beginning with the Marine Stewardship Council’s eco-labeling program, which last year certified Alaska salmon as coming from a healthy fishery. "We made sure our sustainable management of Alaska salmon was duly recognized. It’s nice to see some of the processors stepping up and putting that label on their products," Troll said. Troll also helped launch a popular program that provides marketing grants for new salmon products. Prior to her job with the state, Kate was director of the Southeast Seiners Association and United Fishermen of Alaska. Her replacement is Glenn Haight. Demerits force suspension Bristol Bay driftnetter Trygve Gabrielson of Walla Walla, Wash., won’t be out salmon fishing with the rest of the fleet this summer. Gabrielson is the first commercial fisherman to have his limited entry permit suspended for accumulating too many demerit points. Under a 1998 law, harvesters who receive more than 12 points over a three-year period lose their permits for one year. Gabrielson was charged with fishing during a closed period in Egegik and fishing before and after legal fishing periods. Sixteen demerit points results in suspension for two years, and more than 18 points results in three years on the beach. Fish caucus returns Watch for the resurrection of a legislative Fish Caucus, according to several policy-makers in Juneau. The group will comprise an informal mix of lawmakers and seafood industry representatives who will meet to discuss commercial fishing bills and issues. Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said the idea has been met "with a significant amount of enthusiasm," according to the weekly fish watch publication "Laws for the Sea." Sen. Alan Austerman of Kodiak and Rep. John Harris of Valdez also plan to participate. Enforcement funding Slashed budgets have forced the Fish and Wildlife Protection Division to use a "rob Peter to pay Paul" approach to both sport and commercial fisheries enforcement personnel and patrols. Agency director Joel Hard told the House Finance Committee that Bristol Bay takes 20 percent of total enforcement personnel for one month, while many other major fisheries are going on as well. "This example is not the exception throughout the year, it’s the rule," Hard said. Fish and Wildlife Protection has a statewide staff of 237 to patrol Alaska’s 36,000-mile coastline, plus lakes and rivers. Shellfish sells Americans love mussels, and per capita consumption has increased 250 percent in the past five years, from 880,000 pounds to 2.2 million pounds per month. WorldCatch reports that Terry Callery of Great Eastern Mussel Farms of Tenants Harbor, Maine, the largest mussel producer in the United States, says that American consumers are just learning what most of the world already knows -- that mussels are inexpensive, versatile and delicious. He says, "Mussels have grown beyond what has been an ethnic (in Belgium, Latin and Asian countries) appeal and are now a mainstream item in the U.S. supermarkets." The industry’s marketing efforts are a major reason for the popularity surge in consumption. "There is no question as to the availability of the product grown under controlled conditions. We only harvest what we can sell, and we always have what we need to sell," he said. "Because of this market stability, retailers can confidently advertise mussels to get people to the seafood counter." The growing popularity of mussels echoes the gain made by other aquaculture-based seafoods. Since 1987, due to the increase in aquaculture production, the per capita consumption of salmon is up 285 percent, shrimp is up 31 percent and catfish is up 96 percent.

State scientists urge federal Steller plan go back for improvement

Go back to square one and come up with a better plan, is the recommendation Alaska scientists are making to federal fish managers. At issue is the hotly disputed BiOp or biological opinion, on Steller sea lions, which states that commercial fisheries jeopardize recovery of the endangered animals. The document proposes "reasonable and prudent alternatives" that drastically curtail pollock, Atka mackerel and Pacific cod harvesting in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The protective measures were scheduled to take effect this month, but last-minute congressional action delayed them by six months. "I’ve not read a document generated by an agency like the National Marine Fisheries Service before that had as many shortcomings as this BiOp," said state biologist Gordon Kruse, head of the Alaska Steller Sea Lion Restoration Team. In its six recommendations, the scientific review team states that the alternatives outlined in the BiOp are "not justified based on the data and analysis provided." The group notes that fishing closures in many areas were based on historical data that goes back three decades and recommends that contemporary data on present-day fisheries should be included in this analysis. The restoration team recommends delaying the implementation of an experimental management plan until "a better one has been developed," and states that any regulations in 2001 should be considered temporary. The NMFS has released its proposed emergency rules to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in order that the fisheries can open on schedule. The basic rules would: * Prohibit all directed groundfishing within three miles of sea lion haul-outs. * Modify previous rules to allow up to 60 percent of the catch of pollock and cod to take place in the winter, rather than 40 percent. This is important because the valuable roe fishery takes place in the winter. * Reduce the Gulf of Alaska pollock catch quota by 10 percent. * Limit Bering Sea pollock catches within the conservation areas to the levels they were in 2000. * Close the critical habitat areas defined in the BiOp as of June 10, rather than immediately. This will provide more time to review the science behind the fishery closures and permit the NPFMC to suggest modifications. Fish and Alzheimer’s A new study in the U.S. journal "Lipids" claims that eating fish might ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The study, done on 70 test subjects at the University of Guelph at Toronto, found that Alzheimer’s sufferers all had lower levels of docosahexaenoic acid in blood samples than did elderly subjects with normal cognitive functioning. DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids are found in high concentrations in many fish species, including tuna, salmon and trout, and have been found to lower incidences of cardiovascular disease, depression and attention deficit disorder. "Our research suggests that the need to increase fish, fish products or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet of both the population at large and the elderly seems prudent. We should all be eating more fish," said team leader Julie Conquer. Fish shop attacked The Independent of London reported that fish and chips shops have become the latest target of animal rights activists. A letter bomb packed with nails exploded at a shop in North Wales, and it’s suspected that the perpetrators are members of the Animal Liberation Front. Previous targets have included animal testing laboratories. Robin Webb, spokesman for the ALF, said: "When one looks at the meat industry in this country ... there is what is supposed to be humane slaughter. With the fishing industry, there is no such thing. They are dragged out of the water into an alien environment in which they slowly die. There is no pretense of humane slaughter."  

Proposed regulations could endanger Alaska's shellfish, plant farm industry

Aquaculture is in its infancy in Alaska, but shellfish and plant farmers fear proposed regulations will doom the slowly growing industry. A few weeks ago the state Department of Fish and Game put growers on notice that it wants to limit the location of farms and require detailed information about native species living near potential sites. Under the proposed regulations, the state could prohibit a clam or oyster farm if it might disrupt shorebirds, milling salmon or threatened wildlife within a critical habitat area. Farms would also be banned from places that might be used for cultural or ceremonial purposes or for commercial fishing. Shellfish farmers believe these restrictions could make any beach or cove in Alaska off-limits. Proposed quarantine rules for transferring species like scallops and mussels from one location to another would make such farming illegal, the farmers claim. Aquaculture has been legal in Alaska since 1988, and there are now 39 farms in operation. Eleven farms are in Southeast, and 28 are in the Southcentral region, primarily in Cook Inlet. Alaska aqua farmers grow, in order of importance, oysters, blue mussels, little neck clams, scallops and bull kelp. In 1998, the combined value of those products totaled $463,776. The harvest of 892,366 oysters was worth the most, at $367,261. Alaska shellfish farmers say the proposed regulations are proof that the state has a philosophical bias against aquaculture. State officials however, claim they are just trying to balance competing needs, including concern over native species and demands from commercial and recreational fishermen. Comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted through Feb. 12. Board seeks fishermen Now that new federal subsistence rules are muddying our waters, fishermen are being encouraged to apply for membership on advisory councils that make recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board. Thirty-four appointments will be made this year to fill seats on 10 regional councils, according to Mitch Demientieff, chairman of the board. "The regional councils are the crucial link between subsistence users and the Federal Subsistence Board, as their recommendations carry a great deal of weight in decisions regarding subsistence," he said. To be eligible for membership, an applicant must be a resident of the region he or she wishes to represent, knowledgeable of local and regional subsistence uses of fish and wildlife resources, willing to attend at least two regional council meetings each year, usually in October and February, and Federal Subsistence Board meetings on occasion. Responsibilities of the regional councils include reviewing and making recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board on proposals for regulations, policies, management plans and other subsistence related issues on federal public lands within the region. Council and alternate members are appointed to three-year terms and are reimbursed for related expenses. Federal Subsistence Management Regulations apply only on federal public lands and waters, including limited marine waters, in Alaska. These lands and waters include national wildlife refuges; national parks, monuments, and preserves; national forests; national wild and scenic rivers; and national conservation and recreation areas. Pollock pride Following closely on the heels of Alaska salmon, pollock could be the next to get an ecological stamp of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council. The At-sea Processors Association is seeking certification of the Bering Sea pollock fishery under the rigorous environmental standards developed by the MSC. Alaska salmon in September became the first U.S. fishery to receive the group’s showy eco-label. The label assures consumers that Alaska salmon are harvested in a sustainable way from a healthy environment. To date, the only other seafood in the world to receive the MSC certification are the Western Australian rock lobster and the Thames River herring. To receive certification, MSC requires that a fishery must be conducted in a way that does not take more fish than can be replenished naturally, or kills other species through harmful fishing practices. Secondly, the fishery must operate in a manner that ensures the health and diversity of the marine ecosystem on which it depends. Finally, the fishery must respect local, national, and international laws and regulations for responsible and sustainable fishing.  

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