Salmon marketing, board membership top legislative fish agenda

welchlanieLR.jpg Alaska’s politicos got down to business on Jan. 14, and we can watch for more political posturing, postulating and photo ops than ever during the 121-day legislative session.

There are 57 of the 60 House and Senate seats up for election in November. To add to the drama, because of redistricting, most of those running for office won’t know whom they will be running against, or even where, before the session ends.

As usual, the state’s budget will be in the spotlight as legislators again face a dwindling bottom line. Gov. Tony Knowles’ fiscal 2003 budget of $7.3 billion is an increase of nearly $189 million from last year. As proposed, it will need an infusion of $115 million in new funds just to maintain the current level of services.

On the fish front, the governor is proposing a $10 million marketing appropriation to help the ailing salmon industry. Debate will also begin over continuing the 1 percent salmon tax that fuels the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s efforts to get more wild fish into American mouths. That tax is set to expire next year.

According to longtime legislative fisheries watchdog Bob Tkacz, here are some other issues to watch:

The Legislature will consider a new bill that would ensure commercial fishermen three seats on the seven-member Board of Fish; another would limit the board’s ability to consider fish proposals outside of the normal three-year cycle. A primary issue facing the Department of Fish and Game is its ability to recruit and retain employees in the biological job classes. According to the department’s Frank Rue, state salaries and benefits have eroded to the point where the department is no longer competitive with other employers. Other commercial fisheries priorities Rue highlighted as being in need of increased funding stem from more demands on that division because of dual state-federal management of subsistence fisheries; Steller sea lion fishing restrictions and accompanying research; marketing challenges facing the salmon industry; assessing and developing policy to manage new fisheries; allocating existing fisheries; researching poor salmon returns to Western Alaska; and maintaining the department’s research and support vessels and aircraft.Solving sockeye mysteriesSome of the world’s largest runs of sockeye salmon get their start in the lakes and rivers that empty into Bristol Bay. Yet no one really knows where these salmon go, what they eat, or what eats them once they leave the safety of fresh water for the open ocean. According to Alaska Sea Grant, Stephen Jewett, a fisheries scientist from the University of Alaska, hopes to change all that via a multiyear study with funding from, of all places, the pollock fishing industry."It’s been 30 years since anyone has really looked at the most critical period for sockeye salmon smolt, and that is when they first enter the ocean," Jewett told Sea Grant.Jewett is among 14 scientists funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, a partnership between Alaska’s pollock fishing industry and the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Since its inception in 2000, the PCC Research Center’s top priority has been to learn more about the Bering Sea ecosystem, including issues like climate change and regime shifts and impacts of commercial fishing.Beer batter beats fatAn old English recipe of using beer to make fish and chip batter can cut fat absorption almost in half. WorldCatch reports that New Zealand researchers found that using one cup of beer for each cup of flour absorbed less frying fat and kept the fillets moister. The fat content of fish fillets cooked in the beer batter was nearly 40 percent lower than fillets fried with commercial batter under identical conditions.The researchers speculated that the 5 percent alcohol content of the beer could have caused the batter to dry more quickly during cooking. This produced a hardening layer on the surface that reduced moisture loss and fat absorption.Researchers said the best fat-lowering method is to cook the fish in beer batter at 356 degrees for six minutes, then bang the frying basket at least twice before draining for at least 20 seconds. The research also revealed high frying temperatures and frying times only one minute longer boost the amount of fat absorbed by the fish batter, WorldCatch said.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).
01/27/2002 - 8:00pm