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.

11/15/2016 - 1:46pm