Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Seaweed farming continues to expand with training grant

Weed is set to give a big boost to Alaska’s blue economy! The interest in growing seaweeds in Alaska is gaining momentum and training more farmers is the goal of a program starting next February in Kodiak, Sitka and Ketchikan. The training is phase two of the 2014 Alaska Mariculture Initiative that aims to grow a $100 million industry in 20 years. “We’re doing this training because there is immense interest from coastal communities and commercial fishermen,” said Riley Smith, development director with the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, or AFDF, which helped spearhead the mariculture push. The training program is funded by a $287,646 grant by the federal Saltonstall-Kennedy program for two years. Alaska’s first kelp farm permits were issued in 2016 at Kodiak and now 21 growers have added dulce, nori and sea lettuce to their macroalgae startup menus. The fledgling kelp harvest has gone from 16,000 pounds in 2017 to nearly 90,000 pounds last year, nearly all from Kodiak. Growers were paid 45 cents per pound for sugar kelp and 90 cents for ribbon kelp for crops with a six-month turnover. (Check out the pasta products made from Kodiak kelp at www.blueevolution.com). Through 2019, Alaskans have applied for more than 2,000 acres of new or expanding undersea farms, double the footprint from two years ago, according to Cynthia-Pring Ham, aquatic farming coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game which issues the permits. ADFG partners with the Department of Natural Resources, which leases the lands where aquatic farming takes place. “In 2016 the state only received four applications for aquatic farms, and in 2017, 2018 and 2019, they received 16, 17 and 14 applications for a total of 47 in three years,” Smith said. “And it’s important to note that all of these applications were for oysters, seaweed or both.” “It’s a really good fit with our existing fishery infrastructure,” Sam Rabung, director of the ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division, said in a previous conversation. “We have an ocean workforce of fishing communities, vessels, fishermen, processors that in many cases get used in a kind of boom and bust manner. This gives an additional shoulder to a season.” Rabung, who began researching kelp in Japan in the 1980s and has worked in salmon enhancement and mariculture in Alaska for over 35 years, called diversification into seaweed farming “the biggest change to the industry I’ve seen in the last five years.” “I can’t see a single downside to it,” he said. “The giant kelp that we’re focusing on in Alaska right now, the brown algae, provides everything from food to nutritional supplements to feed supplements for animals, to biofuels, soil amendments and everything in between.” Now it’s time to prime more Alaskans to accelerate seaweed farming around the state. “The purpose of the training is to provide the tools to Alaskans to start their own farms,” Smith said. Ten applicants will be accepted for each training region and combined with online webinars and two-day onsite visits, they will cover a lot of ground from identifying seaweed species to navigating the permit process to business plans and harvesting techniques. Information and instruction will be provided by GreenWave, Alaska Sea Grant, DNR, ADFG, Blue Evolution, OceansAlaska, AFDF and others. The training sessions are free and food and materials are provided, but participants must pay for their own travel and lodging if they live out of town. The most promising six growers will be selected for two year mentoring. “One of the important things we hope to get out of this is more quality applications to DNR. So, the education on site selection and the application process is going to be a huge part of this,” Smith said. “The way our statutes are written aquatic farming is the lowest priority use of coastal waters,” Rabung explained. “When we review a farm permit, we’re looking at its compatibility with existing uses as one of the criteria, such as fisheries. We can’t put farms in places that are traditional seine hook offs or troll drags or dive fisheries or subsistence harvest areas. So we have to do all these reviews and see if we can find ways to reconfigure a footprint or adjust its siting to make sure that things are compatible.” Applicants also must be aware of navigational hazards and marine mammal haul outs when they are siting their farms. As the fledgling algae industry develops, state planners are encouraging some growers to form clusters to “really get things going.” “Getting a larger number of farms concentrated around a hub area to get the synergy to create that critical mass and reduce the cost of logistics, transports, and support services that the farms need,” Rabung explained. “We need it to become a company, an industry. That’s where the state will see its biggest benefit.” So far two Alaska processors, Ocean Beauty and Silver Bay Seafoods, are involved in the new industry. “They need to know there is enough steady volume to make sure it’s worthwhile,” Rabung added. Smith said the emerging mariculture industry has strong interest and support from Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. “I think that the administration sees the potential for providing jobs to Alaska and diversifying economies in coastal communities,” he said. Applications for the seaweed farm training sessions are due to AFDF by December 20th. Apply online at www.afdf.org or contact [email protected] Seaweed at Sand Point and beyond Sand Point will be home to Alaska’s farthest west seaweed startup beginning next year. With an assist by Alaska Sea Grant and the Aleutians East Borough, growers plan to test run two different kelp species and harvest them in the spring of 2021. “Our hope is that we can develop an innovative type of farm that can withstand our weather conditions,” said Melissa Good, a Sea Grant agent in Unalaska, speaking to KFSK in Petersburg. “We are living within an extreme environment; they call it the birthplace of the winds for a very good reason. So, we need to show that this can be done here.” “People also are calling from St. Paul and St. George in the Bering Sea,” said Julie Decker, AFDF executive director. “They want to know what they need to do to get started.” The is projected to top $22 billion by 2024, with human consumption as the largest segment. Growers in Maine fetch 50 to 60 cents per pound for edible grades; their rock weed crop brings in $20 million per year. Chile estimates a kelp industry would bring in $540 million annually. And Japan’s $2 billion nori industry is one of the world’s most valuable crops. Seaweed also benefits the planet by absorbing five times more carbon from the atmosphere than land-based plants. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Uneven status of Pacific halibut revealed by annual data

Following the trend of the past several years, overall Pacific halibut biomass seems to be down again. The most recent stock assessment presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission for its interim meeting on Nov. 25-26 shows a coastwide decline in spawning biomass, though that decline isn’t even across all areas. That’s a continuation of a trend seen in stock assessments since 2015. Particularly, surveys have indicated lower numbers of halibut in the central Gulf of Alaska. According to the 2019 stock assessment, biologists estimate the spawning biomass at 194 million pounds. It’s not down by much overall, but the impact to regulatory areas isn’t evenly spread; the central Gulf of Alaska, or Area 3A, has been declining fairly steadily since 2004, while Areas 2 and 4 — from British Columbia southward and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, respectively — have seen increases in the same time period. “What you will see here shortly … is that we have mixed trends coastwide. However, (commercial catches per unit of effort are) relatively flat at the coastwide level, with some relatively brighter spots and some relatively not-so-good spots across the coast,” said Ian Stewart, the lead scientist on the IPHC’s stock assessment. “…We’re looking at a period of relatively low productivity for the Pacific halibut stock over the next three years.” All signs are pointing, as they have before, to lower fishing yields in order to maintain the target level of intensity on the stock. Overall Pacific halibut landings increased in 2019, coastwide, by a little more than 1 million pounds. That increase is in commercial, with reported mortality for subsistence and recreational fishing flat, according to figures Stewart presented to the IPHC. Each year, the IPHC surveys halibut in the management areas to gather data for a stock assessment that will inform the fishing limits set by the IPHC in February, prior to the next season’s opening. This year, the biologists also had new data to work with for the assessment to gather more information about the stock: sex. Female halibut are bigger, and have long been estimated to outweigh male fish in the commercial catch by weight, but with definitive data on sex distribution in commercial catches, biologists were able to establish exactly what proportion of the catch was male or female. The sex ratio information improves the IPHC’s understanding of the stock dynamics significantly, Stewart said. Coastwide, catches are coming in at 82 percent female on average by total number of fish. That’s much higher than they expected, he said. “We’ve always known that the commercial catch would be dominated by female by weight, because female Pacific halibut are much larger than males, but in terms of having 82 percent by number, that is quite a bit higher than we would have expected,” he said. In some areas, it’s higher. Area 4, which covers the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, the catch was 92 percent female. Areas C, D and E, the Central Bering Sea, were 97 percent female. “(The catch is) almost completely females in the Bering Sea fishery,” Stewart said. Pacific halibut are broadcast spawners, meaning the females carry the eggs and lay them into the water column, where they are fertilized by males. Biologists don’t think it takes that many males to sufficiently breed to keep up the stock. However, there isn’t a good tool for fishermen to exclusively target male halibut at present, Stewart said. In addition to having fewer halibut, their size at age has been declining as well. In the early 1990s, the average halibut weighed more than 30 pounds; since 2010-11, the average weight has been in the mid-20s. However, there may be some promise of better numbers down the road. The surveys track halibut age classes as well. To date, the cohort of 1987 — the fish born that year — have been one of the strongest contributors to catches across the coast. In more recent years, the 2005 cohort has dominated catches, and because halibut are multi-year fish, they can be represented for many years as the fish age. While some of the other cohorts have been weaker, scientists have been tracking the 2011 and 2012 age classes, which are now starting to show up in catches. Because they’ve been younger, they haven’t been contributing as much to the overall catches so far, but in the future, they may show up more. The cohorts aren’t as strong as the 2005 or 1999 age classes, but it is good news, Stewart said. One of the factors that biologists think affects recruitment among Pacific halibut is an environmental trend called Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. PDO describes an environmental phenomenon in the North Pacific similar to the El Nino Southern Oscillation which can last years and describes an oscillation of sea surface temperature and pressure. When temperatures near the coast are higher and cooler in the interior, accompanied by below-average pressure, fishery biologists have noted that Pacific halibut tend to have better recruitment. The opposite is true when the temperatures are lower near the coast and higher near the interior, accompanied by above-average sea level pressures, recruitment tends to be lower. From 2007-13, the PDO value was described as negative, correlated with lower recruitment. Since 2014, the PDO has had a positive value, which may be mean better recruitment, but scientists won’t know for several years yet, Stewart said. The anomalously warm temperatures in the Bering Sea for the last two years may also play a part in Pacific halibut numbers in the future. For the last two years, scientists have noted extremely low sea ice cover in the Bering Sea, accompanied by much warmer sea surface temperatures than normal. This summer, residents and the National Marine Fisheries Service noted unusual sea bird and marine mammal die-offs, potentially correlated with ecosystem changes. There have already been some changes to the Pacific cod distribution, and scientists noted a “modest increase” in the density of Pacific halibut in the northern Bering Sea this summer, Stewart said. It’s hard to definitively say how the warmer temperatures and lack of sea ice will affect Pacific halibut, but scientists have their eyes on the Bering Sea, he said. “We don’t know if (the conditions) are bad yet, but they’re certainly different,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Opposite forecasts for SE pinks, Bristol Bay reds; Cook Inlet busts

Biologists are forecasting another weak pink salmon year for Southeast and another strong sockeye salmon run for Bristol Bay coming in the 2020 season. The forecasts for Southeast Alaska and for Bristol Bay, released in late November, continue the trends of the past few years in both areas. In Southeast, biologists are forecasting about 12 million fish to be harvested, with a range of 7 million to 19 million fish. That’s in the second-lowest forecast percentile, or just more than 20 percent of the fishery’s historic volume. A harvest of 12 million would be about a third of the region’s recent 10-year average harvest, according to the forecast. The forecast number, produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Auke Bay Lab in Juneau in collaboration with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Southeast regional hatcheries, is calculated from surveys of juvenile pink salmon in June and July in northern Southeast Alaska waters. The survey data from 2019 turned up the third-lowest index in the last 23 years, according to the forecast. “The low juvenile abundance index in 2019 was not unexpected. Pink salmon escapements in the parent year (2018) were very poor throughout northern Southeast Alaska inside waters and the escapement goal was not met in that subregion, which may have resulted in below optimal egg deposition,” the forecast states. “Escapement and harvest of pink salmon in the Northern Southeast Inside subregion have been very poor since 2012 and the 2020 forecast indicates this pattern is likely to continue.” Though escapement goals were met in the Southern Southeast and the Northern Southeast Outside regions in 2018, harvests were poor there as well. The reason for the low abundance in the 2019 survey isn’t clear, but it could be due to poor freshwater survival conditions or poorer marine conditions, leading to higher mortality, the forecast states. Drought conditions also lasted from 2018 into spring 2019 in Southeast. The juveniles caught in the survey were all large and healthy-looking, the forecast states, but so were the juveniles from 2014-16, when the returns were also less than average. The summer’s unusually warm and dry conditions may also have an effect, as well as the anomalously high sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska. “The impact of warm sea surface temperatures on the survival of pink salmon that went to sea in 2019 is unknown and adds uncertainty,” the forecast states. Southeast Alaska has had a series of poor pink salmon harvests for the past few years. In 2019, fishermen landed an estimate 21.1 million pink salmon for a total ex-vessel value of $23.7 million, according to a preliminary season summary from Fish and Game. The fish weighed an average of 3.68 pounds. Pink salmon are Southeast’s major volume fishery, but the fish are worth significantly less than other salmon fisheries. Chum, which are significantly larger, came in at an average weight of 7.99 pounds in Southeast. A total of 8.4 million of them landed came to about $37.5 million in ex-vessel value, according to ADFG. The total salmon ex-vessel value of $101 million in 2019 in Southeast was about $32 million less than the total 2018 value, with the shortfall mostly in chums. Bristol Bay Bristol Bay, on the other hand, is predicted to see another better than-average run. The forecast of 48.95 million sockeye is about 6 percent better than the recent 10-year average. If the prediction comes true, it would be yet another big year for Bristol Bay, which has broken harvest and value records for sockeye two years running. The 2018 season brought an estimated 62.5 million sockeye home to the rivers of Bristol Bay; the 2019 season brought more than 50 million. A run of 48.95 million sockeye would allow for a harvest of 36.9 million fish, with 34.56 million in the bay and 2.35 million in the South Peninsula fisheries, according to the forecast. As always, biologists warn caution when reading forecasts, as they may not be accurate, particularly for individual rivers. “Forecasting future salmon returns is inherently difficult and uncertain,” the forecast states. “We have used similar methods since 2001 to produce the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast which have performed well when applied to Bristol Bay as a whole.” Another bust year for Cook Inlet Upper Cook Inlet’s salmon fishermen had another disappointing season, with only 2.1 million salmon landed. That’s about 37 percent less than the recent 10-year average. That brought in a total of about $18 million in ex-vessel value, which is about 40 percent less than the recent 10-year average in the fishery, according to ADFG season summary released Nov. 25. It’s better than the 2018 season, when fishermen in the area only landed about 1.3 million salmon total, about 815,000 of which were sockeye. The sockeye showed up erratically late in 2018, throwing management procedures for a loop and frustrating fishermen. This year, the fish were an estimated two days late, but both the Kasilof River and Kenai River sockeye salmon escapement goals were exceeded in part because of restrictions on commercial fishermen due to weak Kenai River late-run king salmon numbers. The sockeye salmon harvest of about 1.7 million was the second-smallest in the last decade, according to the season summary. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permits fluctuating based on 2019 harvests

The value of Alaska salmon permits has ticked upwards in regions that experienced a good fishery this year while others have tanked. Not surprisingly, the record sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay has boosted sales of driftnet permits to nearly $200,000, up from the mid-$170,000 range prior to the 2019 season. Another strong run forecast of 48.9 million sockeyes for 2020 with a projected harvest of 36.9 million could increase the value even more, said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. What’s really raising eyebrows, Bowen said, is values for driftnet permits at Area M (False Pass) on the Alaska Peninsula where lots of people want in and not many want out. “We sold one at $235,000 which is amazing; $40,000 more than a Bay permit,” Bowen said. Listings by other brokers reflect the same trend with Area M seine permits also commanding more than $180,000. Wanting in are fishermen at Cook Inlet where another poor season has seen the value of driftnet permits plummet. “They got up as high as $40,000 before the season, we’ve sold a couple at $28,000 and they are down around $25,000 to $26,000,” Bowen said. “You have folks in Cook Inlet that have hung on for years and they’re trying to get out and go to Area M or Bristol Bay where they can hopefully make a living.” At Kodiak, which had a strong 2019 fishery, the value of seine permits value increased for the first time in many years from $30,000 to $40,000. The Kodiak fishery produced more than 36 million salmon, well better than the 10-year average of 21 million fish, of which nearly 33 million were pinks. The value to fishermen was nearly $46 million compared to the recent 10-year average of $38 million. A fleet of 176 seiners accounted for most of the harvest with each averaging $227,552 per permit, an increase of $80,000 versus 2018. Conversely, at Prince William Sound seine permit values remain lackluster in the $175,000 range with drifts upwards of $145,000. The estimated preliminary dockside value of the total salmon harvest was nearly $114 million, an increase of about $19 million from 2018. Contrary to expectations, Southeast Alaska had a disappointing salmon fishery that has put a downward press on permit prices. “With the preseason optimism there, the Southeast drift was around $90,000 to $92,000. We have one now at $87,000 so that’s a lower asking price than what the preseason sales were. But there is no action there,” Bowen said, adding that Southeast seine cards are holding at $230,000 also with little activity. Southeast’s 2019 salmon fishery was valued at less than $102 million compared to nearly $134 million in 2018. Meanwhile, the Panhandle is projected to see pink salmon numbers catches plummet next summer. State fishery managers are forecasting a 2020 catch of just 12 million pinks, one-third of the 10 year average, and down from 21 million taken in 2019. An advisory from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated: “It is possible that drought conditions present in Southeast Alaska from the parent year 2018 spawn through the spring of 2019 reduced spawning success or negatively impacted overwinter survival of developing juvenile salmon, but the exact reasons for the low juvenile abundance are not known.” It added: “Like many recent years, a potential source of uncertainty regarding the 2020 pink salmon return is the anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska in 2019. Compared to sea surface temperatures since 1997, when NOAA first started the Southeast Coastal Monitoring project, surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska in 2019, immediately offshore of Southeast Alaska, were the warmest of the time series in July, the 4th warmest in August, and 3rd warmest in September.” Uni undone Uni, or roe from sea urchins, is a popular delicacy with sushi lovers but it draws little interest by Alaska harvesters. Alaska has a red urchin fishery in Southeast with a harvest guideline of 3.5 million pounds, although that number is based on older stock surveys, said Phil Doherty, co-director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association. “That’s a bit of a ghost guideline average level, because there aren’t that many sea urchins still here,” he said, adding that since the 1980s and ‘90s the bulk of the urchin beds have been wiped out by sea otters. “That’s the No. 1 factor in the lack of production in Southeast, and there’s nothing that’s going to happen here in the foreseeable future to change that,” he added. A second reason for the lack of interest, Doherty said, is the difficulty in getting the delicate uni from the softball sized urchins to Japanese markets in top condition. “The Japanese market is very particular on how seafood looks and it’s very difficult to crack open the urchins and get the roe out and pack it into special containers and get it onto the airlines and over to Japan, which is the main market,” he explained. For the most recent Southeast harvest of about 700,000 pounds of red urchins in 2015, a handful of divers got 49 cents a pound. Smaller, hockey puck sized green urchins found around Kodiak are preferred over the reds, but a lack of markets also has stalled fishing interest there. There’s been no urchin harvest since 2001, said Nat Nichols area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. “It’s not that the harvest stopped because we had concerns about the stock – it was largely market driven. I think the major barrier for even a small scale fishery is finding a market and getting them there in good condition,” he said. In the 1980s, landings of green urchins reached about 80,000 pounds; now the harvest limit is 55,000 pounds. Only one Kodiak permit was issued last year and this year by a diver collecting samples for potential buyers. Nichols said urchin uni is now more familiar to U.S. buyers and perhaps there might be interest from more local markets. “If you could develop a smaller local market, that would alleviate the issue of getting bigger loads of product sent out in good condition,” he said. “That might spur more participation.” Ocean awards The Alaska Sealife Center is accepting nominations through Dec. 10 to recognize those who have made special contributions to ocean sciences, education and management. Awards and cash prizes will be given in five categories, including for youths aged 12 to 19. Nominations can be made online at alaskasealife.org or by email at [email protected] Tongass correction In the comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and proposed rollback of the Tongass roadless rule, more than 80,000 comments have been received so far; not more than 140,000 as was previously stated. According to Paul Robbins, Jr., U.S. Forest Service/Tongass public affairs officer, those comments were from the scoping period last year and were not in reference to the current proposed rule. Comments are now being accepted online through Dec. 17, by email to [email protected]/ or by mail to the US Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, 99802. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Overall salmon value jumps in 2019; Kodiak gets Tanner fishery

Alaska’s 2019 salmon season was worth $657.6 million to fishermen, a 10 percent increase from the 2018 fishery. Sockeye salmon accounted for nearly 64 percent of the total value, topping $421 million, and 27 percent of the harvest at 55.2 million fish. Those are the lead takeaways in a summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that reveals preliminary estimates of salmon harvests and values by region. The final values will be determined in 2020 after processors, buyers, and direct marketers submit their totals paid to fishermen. Pink salmon were the second most valuable species representing 20 percent of the total dockside value at $128.6 million, and 62 percent of the harvest at just more than 129 million fish. Chum salmon accounted for 10 percent of the value at $63.8 million and 9 percent of the harvest at 18.5 million. Coho salmon contributed about 5 percent of the fishery value at $29.6 million and 2 percent of the harvest at 3.8 million fish. The chinook salmon harvest of just more than 272,000 was worth $14.4 million to fishermen, the third lowest value since limited entry began in 1975. Salmon prices for 2019 took a dip for all but sockeyes, which averaged $1.45 per pound, an increase from $1.33. The average price for chinook was $4.48 per pound, down from $5.98 in 2018. Cohos at $1.15 dropped from $1.34; pink salmon at 30 cents declined from 45 cents, and chums at 49 cents took a big dip from the 78 cents paid on average last year. The price drops, especially for pinks and chums, likely stemmed from the huge Russian harvest that was expected to approach 1.8 billion pounds this year. That compares to a 2019 Alaska salmon catch of just more than 872 million pounds. Average salmon weights this year were 11.84 pounds for chinook, up from 11.59 pounds in 2018. Sockeye weight of 5.24 pounds was down slightly from 5.26 pounds. Coho salmon averaged 6.77 pounds, down from 7.42; pinks averaged 3.27 pounds, down from 3.76 and chum weight at 7.07 pounds declined from 8 pounds on average. At Southeast Alaska, fishermen caught 32.2 million salmon valued at more than $101.8 million. That compares to 21.2 million fish valued at $133.6 million in 2018. Prince William Sound fishermen harvested 57.75 million salmon this valued at just under $115 million. Last year’s take was just more than 29 million fish valued at nearly $95 million. At Cook Inlet, fishermen caught more than 4.3 million salmon valued at nearly $23 million. That’s a slight improvement over the nearly 3.3 million fish valued at $18 million in 2018. Bristol Bay fishermen had a total salmon catch of nearly 44.5 million salmon of which almost 43 million were sockeyes. The value of more than $306.5 million was a record and compares to 43.5 million fish worth $281 million at the docks in 2018. Kodiak’s salmon fishery produced 35.7 million fish valued at $47 million. That compares to fewer than 9 million salmon worth $27.8 million last year. At Chignik, fishermen fared far better with a catch of 3.5 million salmon valued at $8 million. Last year harvesters took just more than 1,000 salmon (only 128 sockeyes!) worth less than $4,000. At the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands region, a bumper catch of nearly 21 million pinks in the southern district pushed the total salmon catch to nearly 27 million salmon valued at more than $49 million. Last year fishermen there took just more than 6 million salmon worth more than $29 million. On the Yukon, fishermen took 561,644 fish, mostly chums, for a total fishery value topping $2.5 million. That compares to more than 1 million salmon valued at nearly $4.7 million in 2018. Norton Sound harvesters landed 381,124 salmon worth just more than $2 million at the docks. That compares to 540,796 salmon valued at $4 million last year. At Kotzebue, fishermen caught 493,340 salmon, nearly all chums, valued at more than $1.5 million. That’s down from 695,000 fish last year, worth nearly $2.3 million at the docks. Once again, there was no salmon fishing opportunity for fishermen at the Kuskokwim. The region’s Community Development Quota group, Coastal Villages Region Fund, abruptly closed its plant at Platinum a few years ago. No buyer means no commercial salmon fishing. Kodiak gets some crab It’s a go for Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery, albeit a small one, but better catches aren’t far off. The mid-January fishery will have a combined 400,000 pounds catch limit in two areas, the minimum to open a fishery. At average weights of 2.2 pounds, the fishery should produce 182,000 crabs. That’s down from a harvest of 615,000 pounds last season. Crabbers are tapping on the tail end of a big Tanner year class from 2013, said Natura Richardson, assistant area manager for the westward region at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office at Kodiak. “The east side’s going to have a 300,000-pound harvest and the southeast is going to have 100,000 pounds. And particularly on the east side, this definitely is fishing on the same crab that they’ve been targeting for the last two seasons,” she explained. “We first saw this big cohort from 2013 in the survey, and that’s what we fished on in 2018 and 2019. And 2020 is probably going to be the last hit on this specific cohort. Despite the low catch, she said managers don’t expect the fishery to go fast. “We don’t have any conservation concerns because there are so many mature crabs in the water that we still feel that we are leaving a good standing stock to reproduce,” she said. (Only mature male crabs can be retained for sale.) “But because of that people are going to be seeing a lot of non- target crab and not as many legal crabs, so it is probably not going to be really hot and heavy with high catches per pot. I think that it’s going to be a little bit more work to get to the legal males.” Looking ahead, the future bodes well for westward region Tanners. Surveys have been tracking the biggest pulse of crab they’ve ever seen for several years, and the crabs seem to be growing faster than usual. It can take more than five years for the crab to grow to harvestable size. “The next pulse in the water has definitely retained,” Richardson said. “We saw them in the survey last year and again this year. So we have a lot of hope that they will continue to track through the population. They have survived at a higher rate relative to the previous 2013 pulse, so that definitely looks promising for future fisheries.” The big pulse of crab should enter the fishery within a couple of years. Richardson agreed that the 80 percent cod crash in the Gulf last year might be a reason that the recruits are showing better survival, as cod eat lots of small crab. Fisheries at Chignik and the South Peninsula will remain closed although the outlook for those regions appears hopeful. Last season 82 crabbers dropped pots for Tanners at Kodiak. The statewide average price was $3.94 per pound. By the way, Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol “T” because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross that explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bering Sea halibut bycatch increases as council considers cod options

Editor's note: This article has been edited to correct the coastwide bycatch numbers. The bycatch numbers across Alaska exceeded the fishery limits, but in individual areas the bycatch was lower in 2019 than in 2018. Bycatch increase in areas 4 CDE+CA, in the Bering Sea. In the Bering Sea, commercial fishermen caught more halibut as bycatch this year, though overall bycatch in Alaska fell. Data released preceding the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s upcoming interim meeting shows that almost all the regulatory areas of Alaska from Southeast to the Bering Sea — areas 2C through 4E, respectively — caught less halibut as bycatch in 2019 than they did in 2018, though the areas all still exceeded their fishery limits, with the exception of Area 4B. Coastwide, from California and British Columbia through the Bering Sea, bycatch decreased from a little more than 6 million pounds to about 5.89 million pounds, though bycatch in areas 4 CDE+CA increased from about 2.98 million pounds to about 3.22 million pounds. Overall, commercial fishermen have landed about 16.5 million pounds of halibut in Alaska in the 2019 season, 13 percent less than the fishery limit. Alaska made up most of the non-directed commercial discard mortality, with about 5.56 million pounds. The IPHC will hold its interim meeting Nov. 25 in Seattle to review the stock assessment and season information, among other information, prior to its full annual meeting scheduled for Feb. 3-7, 2020, in Anchorage, where the commission adopts its season limits and regulations. Most of the non-directed commercial discard mortality — the technical IPHC term for bycatch — went to the trawl fleet, as it has in the past. There was also a small increase in Southeast Alaska’s bycatch numbers, though the area doesn’t have a trawl fleet and overall catch was down from the 2018 season. Halibut bycatch is a sticky problem throughout Alaska’s commercial fisheries. The high-volume trawl fleet targets a variety of species, including flatfish, that share habitat with halibut. While longliners can use larger hooks to avoid catching immature halibut, trawlers use large nets that don’t necessarily predict what will come up. To control the bycatch, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council sets prohibited species catch, or PSC, limits; when the limit on bycatch is reached, the fishery is restricted or closed. In the case of the Pacific cod fishery in the Bering Sea, this has been happening more and more often. Declining total allowable catch, or TAC, limits for Pacific cod increasingly shorten the season and pressure boats to work quickly, hoping to catch enough cod before the cap is reached. Because they work quickly, they increasingly may not take precautions to avoid bycatch, adding the pressure of the fishery closing more quickly as the PSC limit is reached. Combined with pressure on the stock from directed fishing and changing ocean conditions, researchers and stakeholders have raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of the stock. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is working on a major program aimed partially to control halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea: rationalizing the Pacific cod fishery in the Bering Sea, aiming to alleviate the pressure on the halibut there by eliminating what stakeholders call “the race for fish.” During the council’s meeting in October, the members approved a list of options and elements for preliminary analysis for the Pacific cod fishery, including a number of particulars for a cooperative-based limited access privilege program in the fishery. Within the purpose and need statement, reducing bycatch is identified as one of the goals. The North Pacific Fisheries Association’s members want to see permanent measures to reduce bycatch included in the program, including mechanisms to change the plan if bycatch isn’t reduced, and encouragement to transition to more selective gear types. “We are encouraged that bycatch reduction is a top priority for the Council, and an integral part of the Purpose and Needs Statement for this topic,” wrote NPFA President Malcolm Milne in a letter to the council. “However, we have increasing concerns about the council’s ability to achieve that intent through a program that, despite strategic design, still codifies use of and permanent access rights to gear with high bycatch rates.” Pacific cod is a high-volume fishery, while halibut, on the other hand, is a high-value fishery. To sustain the communities that depend on cod, the high volume needs to come in, wrote Pacific Seafood Processors Association President Chris Barrows in a letter to the council. The processors recognize that something needs to be done to address the race for fish but encouraged the council to consider the investment and dependence on cod of all sectors before moving forward with a cooperative based model for rationalizing the Pacific cod fishery. “All sectors are reliant on a healthy resource, improving bycatch, robust monitoring, and a safely prosecuted fishery,” he wrote. “As we make changes to better accomplish those objectives, we want to encourage inclusion and consideration of all dependent sectors, including shoreside processors and the communities in which we operate.” Both Pacific cod rationalization program and an abundance-based management program — which would allow PSC limits to flex with the biomass assessments in the Bering Sea rather than being fixed — have potential to address the issue, but the particulars are still unclear, said Peggy Parker, the executive director of the Halibut Association of North America. The abundance-based management program is meant to help alleviate the problem of a non-directed fishery still taking Pacific halibut when a directed fishery is shut down or curtailed because of a lack of sufficient fish. “We could have a situation where the directed fishery is shut down, but bycatch is still allowed,” she said. “I really recognize the strong feelings they have not to shut down the flatfish fishery, the pollock fishery, any of that … We don’t want to shut down these really important-to-the-national-economy fisheries, but we also don’t want to lend a hand to what could be severely damaging to the halibut stock.” The bycatch issue in the Bering Sea goes outside its geographic confines, too, she said — halibut migrate extensively from west to east. With heavy fishing pressure on all age groups in the Bering Sea, the question extends to the other regulatory areas whether the Pacific halibut stock can withstand that level of bycatch. In either case, both measures are far to implementation yet. “I don’t know if it’s going to be enough, because we don’t really have a good clear picture yet of what either of those are going to look like,” she said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Roadless Rule repeal gets pushback; halibut data on tap

The federal government’s plan to raze more roads through the Tongass National Forest is facing strong headwinds from fishermen, Native groups and coastal communities throughout Southeast Alaska. More than 220 Southeast Alaskan fishermen signed a letter to the Trump Administration last week opposing the abrupt push to exempt the Tongass National Forest from a “Roadless Rule” in place for over a decade. The exemption would release more than 9 million acres from protection and open nearly 200,000 acres to logging. The U.S. Forest Service made the announcement on October 15 that it is seeking a full exemption from rules that ban more road building in the nation’s largest forest. Alaska would be the only state exempted from the current federal law. The fishermen’s letter, spearheaded by the Sitka Conservation Society and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue telling him that fishing is the backbone of local economies and it relies on intact watersheds and salmon spawning grounds in the Tongass, which produces 80 percent of the salmon caught in the Southeast region. The push has quickly generated support from other fronts. The Skagway Borough Assembly passed a resolution last week in support of maintaining the Roadless Rule, citing, among other things, the impact logging could have on tourism. “I wonder what happens to that experience when cruise ships are passing by clear cut areas, or when cruise ships dock in a port and people take a flight through an area that has been clear cut or a place that you used to be able to fish like I’ve done in Baranoff that you can no longer do because the stream has been compromised,” said Mayor Andrew Cremata as reported by radio station KHNS. Likewise, six tribal governments issued a joint statement condemning the roadless exemption. They include the Angoon Cooperative Association, Central Council of Tlingit &Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Hoonah Indian Association, Hydaburg Cooperative Association, and the Villages of Kake and Kasaan. Their statement accused the federal agencies of ignoring the concerns of the tribes and said they were “deeply disappointed” by the process, according to the Juneau Empire. The roll back of the Roadless Rule has the strong support of Alaska’s congressional delegation and “every statewide elected official in Alaska supports an exemption from the regulation,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a Sept. 25 opinion piece in the Washington Post called “Why I support Trump’s proposal to lift restrictions in the Tongass.” “The one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule is an unnecessary layer of paralyzing regulation that should never have been applied to Alaska,” Murkowski wrote, adding that the rule has hurt the timber industry and also affects “mining, transportation, energy and more.” “When combined with national monument and other natural-setting land-use designations, more than 13 million acres of the Tongass are already explicitly restricted from resource development or are required to be managed as roadless areas. That’s nearly 80 percent of the forest,” Murkowski wrote. “It is also critical to understand that all of the designations listed above, and all of the protections they afford, will apply to the Tongass regardless of what happens with the Roadless Rule.” That doesn’t convince Sitka fisherman Eric Jordan, who was highly critical of the way in which the Forest Service began working on new rules shortly after Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy met with Donald Trump aboard Air Force One in July. (That meeting also resulted in the abrupt pullback of proposed protections for the Bristol Bay watershed by the EPA.) “Their record is one of irresponsible top down management without listening to their constituents,” Jordan said in a phone interview, adding that more people are actively meeting to make sure their voices are heard. “People are taking notice of the draconian policies of this state and Trump’s leadership and there’s going to be consequences at the polls and in the courts,” Jordan said. “There will not be logging activities that they are envisioning because we’re going to tie it up in courts and demonstrations forever.” The Forest Service has so far received over 140,000 public comments on the proposed Tongass Roadless Rule with the majority being opposed to the change. Comments are being accepted through Dec. 17 or by email to [email protected]/ Comments also can be sent to USDA Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau 99802. Halibut happenings In a few weeks, the researchers who oversee and set the catch limits for the Pacific halibut stock will reveal how the fishery could play out next year. The interim meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission will take place Nov. 25-26 in Seattle. Nearly all of the documents related to the fishery are now posted including updates on the summer survey, minus stock assessments. That information will be revealed by Nov. 22. The Pacific halibut resource is modeled as a single stock and each year’s survey is divided into 31 regions extending from Northern California to British Columbia and the far reaches of the Bering Sea. From June through August, 18 longliners this year participated in surveys of nearly 1,370 stations, including 89 added to the Central Gulf of Alaska. The survey boats used 407,000 pounds of chum salmon as bait and caught nearly 860,000 pounds of halibut during the summer survey. Most of the vessel contracts receive a lump sum payment plus a 10 percent share of the halibut proceeds. Data show how much the halibut fetched at all ports, ranging from $3.71 per pound at St. Paul to $7.76 at Cordova. The total coastwide catch of Pacific Halibut for 2019 was increased by 6 percent to nearly 25 million pounds. Alaska’s share was just less than 20 million pounds, a three million pound boost from 2018. The catch numbers for 2020 will be revealed at the IPHC’s annual meeting set for Feb. 3-7 at the Captain Cook Hotel Anchorage. The eight-month halibut fishery opens in March. Up next: Expo! The Pebble mine will be the keynote presentation at Pacific Marine Expo set for Nov. 21-23 in Seattle. “Pebble has gone from an Alaska issue to something that has really become important to everyone in the fishing and seafood communities. This is something that can impact a lot of people,” said Denielle Christensen, Expo director. “A panel will look at the environmental impact statement, the science behind it and what this might mean. We’ve even including a chef who feels quite passionate about understanding what to communicate to consumers about the Pebble Mine.” Fishing safety also will be showcased; the U.S Coast Guard will advise about changing fishing vessel safety requirements along with crossing hazardous bars. Historically, such crossings have been one of the biggest risks inherent with commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest. “Responders are going to cover everything from understanding bar condition reporting, how and when to request a Coast Guard escort and what they can expect during an escort,” Christensen explained. Over 400 Expo exhibiters are expected at the CenturyLink Center in Seattle. Other events include a Fishermen of the Year contest, Highliner Awards, Fisher Poets, daily happy hours and the first leg of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition where the top winners will be announced. See the Expo line up at www.pacificmarineexpo.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Otter impacts still frustrating Southeast divers, crabbers

They are certainly cute but the voracious appetites of sea otters continue to cause horrendous damage to some of Southeast Alaska’s most lucrative fisheries. How best to curtail those impacts will be the focus of a day-long stakeholders meeting set for November 6 in Juneau. “All of the people who have anything to do with the otters hopefully will all be in the same room at the same time,” said Phil Doherty, co-director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association based in Ketchikan. A 2011 report by the McDowell Group showed that otter predation on sea cucumbers, clams, urchins, crabs and other shellfish cost the Southeast economy nearly $30 million over 15 years. And their population has skyrocketed since then. Four hundred otters were reintroduced to Southeast by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from Amchitka Island in the 1960s after nearly being wiped out by fur traders at the turn of that century. The otters, which rose to nearly 26,000 in the latest assessment updated in 2014, are under federal protection and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The animals can grow up to 100 pounds and typically eat the equivalent of a quarter of their weight each day. Last year, at the urging of 20 Southeast towns, organizations and Native groups, the Alaska Senate passed a resolution asking for the state to take over otter management and to provide for more protections. “If the population continues to go unchecked, predation from sea otters inevitably threatens the future of dive and crab fisheries, jeopardizing hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in economic activity,” Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, wrote in a statement. One suggested solution has been to allow increased hunting by Native Alaskans, the only people allowed to do so, and lowering the Native blood “eligibility” to one-quarter of a percent. But Doherty said at a growth rate estimated at between 12 and 14 percent a year, hunting can’t keep up with the population. Another problem is restrictions on what Natives are allowed do with the otters they hunt. “The Marine Mammal Protection Act clearly states what Alaskan coastal Natives can do with sea otters,” Doherty explained. “They have to produce a finished product that is in the tradition of Native art and how they’ve used them over the years. They cannot harvest sea otters and sell just the pelt on the open market.” Patrick Lemons, Alaska chief of marine mammal management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last year that the Marine Mammal Protection Act limits the agency’s response and they cannot intervene to protect commercial fisheries until a species is at “optimum sustainable population.” The agency recently put the Southeast region’s otter carrying capacity at 77,000, Doherty said. “Until we’re at that carrying capacity, they will manage the sea otters in a very conservative mode. And once we get to 77,000 otters, we can kiss some of these industries goodbye, and it is not just the dive fisheries. The Dungeness crab fishery here in Southeast is being severely impacted and otters eat king and Tanner crab, so there’s going to be impacts on all of the shellfish fisheries.” While the upcoming meeting will provide a valuable exchange, Doherty is not optimistic about the outcomes. “Because the otters are so protected within the Marine Mammal Protection Act, I don’t think anything is going to change the tide of the sea otter population here in Southeast Alaska,” he said. The day long Nov. 6 otter meeting will take place at the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building in Juneau. It is free and open to the public. Pebble hearing in DC Threats posed to the Bristol Bay watershed by the proposed Pebble mine took center stage in Washington, D.C., at an Oct. 23 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Opponents are hopeful the hearing might help put the brakes on the Pebble permitting process. “If Pebble is developed, there is no doubt it will forever change who I am, who my people are, where I come from. And it will rob our children’s children of their right to continue being Native people as we have for thousands of years in Bristol Bay,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Alaska Public Radio’s Liz Ruskin was at the hearing and reported that Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier, the only witness to support the mine, “tilted back in his chair and looked at the ceiling as Hurley spoke.” Alaska Congressman Don Young, who has not taken a position on the mine, criticized the witnesses for “not being scientists.” In a video of the hearing, Young said: “You’re not listening to the science. You are saying a lot of what ifs. Can and cannots. Should we or shouldn’t we. And this committee has a responsibility to review those that are directly involved. Not those that may be affected about it. It’s about science.” Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., an outspoken Pebble critic, questioned the permitting process. He had especially harsh words about the way in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assessing the project, which many have criticized as being rushed and sloppy. “What I first want is a proper review and a proper comment period, and I don’t believe the Corps is doing either of those things,” he said at the hearing. “And I’m going to push them very hard to push back, even if Donald Trump is pushing on the other side.” DeFazio was referring to a pull back of special protections the EPA had proposed on the Bristol Bay watershed in 2014. The proposed restrictions were abruptly withdrawn this year on July 30 after Trump had a brief meeting with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. That EPA pullback has prompted three lawsuits against the EPA by nearly 20 diverse groups. Last week’s hearing is “typically the first step before an investigation on the permitting process is launched,” said Molly Dischner, communications director for United Tribes of Bristol Bay. The Pebble Partnership has spent more than $2 million on federal lobbying so far this year according to public disclosure forms, Liz Ruskin reported. A final environmental impact statement on the project is expected in January. Fish game changer Just as farmed salmon grown in sea cages toppled markets for wild fish a few decades ago, land-based farming is set to change the game again over the next decade. It will come in the form of recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS, and will cause even more disruption to world markets. That is the conclusion of Rabobank, a Netherlands-based leader in food and agriculture financing that is among the 30 largest groups in the world. A Rabobank report this month identified more than 50 RAS proposed projects around the world with an estimated output to equal 25 percent of current salmon production by the year 2030. That totals roughly 550 million pounds of fish; in comparison, Alaska’s 2018 salmon catch produced 605 million pounds of salmon. The report said most of the land-based farms are planned in Norway, but proposed production volumes are highest in the U.S. where six farms are planned. In the U.S. Maine is taking the lead where Portland-based company Whole Oceans has received two leases alongside and underneath the Penobscot River. It plans to break ground on a $180 million RAS facility next year and begin output of 11 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually. The report said RAS could disrupt traditional ocean-based fish farming over the next 10 years adding “it’s not a question of if, but of how much.” Blue opportunity The Alaska Ocean Cluster, an arm of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, is seeking a manager for its Blue Pipeline Incubator, or BPI, in Seward. “This is a blended position made possible through a partnership between the Ocean Cluster, the City of Seward, the Seward Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center,” said Casey Rangel, program manager. The BPI Manager will oversee all operations of the incubator and will act as the liaison to Seward’s ocean-based industries. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field. Salary is $65,000 to $75,000+ commensurate with experience. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Learn more at www.alaskaoceancluster.com/about/employment. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Kelp harvest rules under review; salmon summaries roll out

As more Alaskans eye the lucrative opportunities in growing kelp, many others are heading to beaches at Lower Cook Inlet to commercially harvest the detached bunches that wash ashore. That practice is now getting a closer look by state managers and scientists and could result in new regulations by year’s end. Detached kelp harvests have occurred at Lower Cook Inlet under special permits since the 1970s but matters of who needs permits, for how much and for what purposes are not clearly defined. Currently, a special permit is needed for commercial takes. “A commissioner’s permit is needed that describes where and when harvests will occur and how much will be taken. It needs to be documented thoroughly to make sure they are not taking the wrong species, or not taking from below the high tide line,” said Glenn Hollowell, area manager for finfish at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Homer. Owners of the Anchor Point Greenhouse, for example, take 6,000 to 7,000 pounds from local beaches each September and over four decades they’ve created a booming business for a potting soil blend that is sold statewide. In the past, the detached seaweed has been considered dead. More recently, it’s been discovered that many clumps continue to release live spores. Hollowell said that may mean it’s important to sustaining those kelp populations, and all that beached seaweed might also serve other purposes. “Whether this is for reproductive reasons, or to provide shelter and food for a variety of wild animals, as well as a carbon source. It does feed a lot of other ecological needs. And we’re just not certain that the wholesale removal of this stuff in large quantities might not have a negative impact on the ecosystem in general. So, we’re approaching this very cautiously,” he explained. The state Board of Fisheries will take up two detached and live kelp proposals at its Dec. 10-13 meeting in Seward. One (No. 21) submitted by Al Poindexter of the Anchor Point Greenhouse, aims to better identify the commercial harvest of detached kelp off of beaches. “First, Fish and Game does not know production rates of seaweed and what keeps it sustainable…Another issue is what is commercial or home use and what amounts are those?” Poindexter wrote. “For instance, I will collect 6 small pickups and it is called commercial, but my neighbor will collect 10 pickups for his berry patch and that is called home use. Another may just collect a bucket full for his flower patch. Who needs a permit and who doesn’t? And for what purpose? Does anyone get grandfathered in or who decides by what criteria, amounts, geographic area or timing? Parameters would be based on what data?” “At this time, I believe that out of all the folks who collect seaweed from the beach, I have been the only one who has been required to get a permit for this activity,” he concluded. Another proposal (No. 241) would allow for the personal use harvest of aquatic plants in the Cook Inlet area outside of subsistence areas, similar to rules the Fish Board created in Southeast Alaska last year. Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are working with ADFG to learn what happens when kelp is removed from areas and how such harvests affect rejuvenation. “The department wants to be very cautious as we start doing new things with it, to make sure that we don’t allow something we will later regret. It might cause damage to that kelp population, or to other species of invertebrates or vertebrates that utilize it such as birds and fish,” Hollowell said. The outcome of those projects, he added, will likely shape future regulations. Comments can be made to the Board of Fisheries through Nov. 25. Eating fish boosts IQ For centuries what’s been regarded as an old wives’ tale has claimed that fish is brain food. Now there’s more proof that eating seafood does indeed make you smarter. A report out last week by 13 leading dietary scientists declared that children whose mothers ate seafood during pregnancy gained an average 7.7 IQ points compared to children of moms who did not. The findings came after a review of 44 different studies since 2000 that included nearly 103,000 mother-offspring pairs and more than 25,000 children. The brain benefits began with just one serving of seafood per week during pregnancy, and the beneficial outcomes appeared on tests given as early as three days of age and as late as 17 years. Along with IQ, measures included verbal, visual and motor skill development. Four studies looked at hyperactivity and ADHD diagnoses and showed that kids of moms not eating seafood had nearly three times greater risk of hyperactivity. The findings follow a report this year from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said U.S. children are not eating enough seafood. Dr. Tom Brenna, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, said it’s the omega-3s in seafood that boost brain growth. “The brain and the retina in the eye are omega-3 organs,” he said. “You can say that as calcium is to the bones, omega 3 is to the brain.” Brenna agreed it’s been tough to get the message to a wider audience. “We don’t have a good a way of getting the word out. Maybe we should have a contest to find a nice tag line that would identify seafood in the same way as ‘Got Milk’ or ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,’” he added in a phone conversation. The IQ boost from eating fish report comes as the U.S. is updating its dietary guidelines through 2025. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet five times through March 2020 and written comments are being accepted until the committee completes its work. Salmon summaries Prince William Sound’s salmon harvest this summer came in at nearly 58 million fish, of which almost 50 million were pinks. The estimated fishery value was $114 million, including hatchery sales, and paid out at $81,600 per permit on average for the fleet of 504 drift gillnetters; 238 seiners averaged $218,000 per permit. Revenue generated for hatchery operations was approximately $18.6 million. At Copper River, a catch of nearly 1.3 million sockeye salmon was 28 percent more than the previous 10-year average, and the average sockeye weight of 5.5 pounds was the largest in the last five years. Those are just a few of the details in season summaries that will continue to trickle in by region to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. At Lower Cook Inlet the 2019 salmon catch totaled 2.4 million fish, of which nearly 2 million were pinks. The commercial harvest value of nearly $3.6 million was above the 10-year average of $2.4 million. At Norton Sound, 145 permits were fished this summer, the second highest since 1993, and the fishery value topped $2 million for the third year in a row. The region saw well above average runs of chums, pinks, sockeyes and coho salmon. The chum salmon harvest of 157,035 was the third highest in the last 35 years. At Alaska’s farthest north salmon fishery at Kotzebue the chum harvest topped 400,000 fish for only the tenth time ever for 93 participants. The value of more than $1.5 million was down a third from last year due to lower prices, but it was the fifth time since 1988 that it exceeded $1 million. Fishery managers at Bristol Bay were the first to come out with a season summary showing a preliminary fishery value at $306.5 million, an all-time record. A total take of 44.5 million salmon, of which 43 million were sockeyes, was the second largest in history since the 45.4 million fish taken in 1995. Salmon summaries from other regions will soon follow and yield the preliminary dockside value for the entire 2019 fishery. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Efforts underway to streamline fisheries disaster relief

With an increasing number of fisheries disaster requests coming from all over the United States, members of Congress and the federal government are looking for ways to improve the relief process. Summer 2018 brought disappointing results for many fishermen across Alaska, particularly for sockeye salmon fishermen in the central Gulf of Alaska, but only two fisheries were officially granted federal disaster declarations: the 2018 Chignik sockeye salmon run and the 2018 Pacific cod fishery. While many other fishermen at least got a few fish to fill their wallets, Chignik fishermen had virtually no season, and Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishermen saw their total allowable catch reduced by 80 percent from 2017 because of low abundance. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced a dozen commercial fishery disaster declarations Sept. 25 for the 2018 calendar year. Congress appropriated $165 million for fisheries disaster relief, to be allocated according to the losses in revenue for the selected fisheries. It’s the second time in recent years there have been disastrously poor returns to some fisheries. In 2016, the failed pink salmon run across the Gulf of Alaska left many fishermen holding empty nets, particularly in Kodiak and Prince William Sound, resulting in a disaster declaration in 2017 and eventually $56 million in relief funds for stakeholders. However, because of the long federal application and funding process, fishermen just received those disbursements in July 2019, nearly three years after the disaster. The slow process isn’t unique to Alaska. Senate Bill 2346, introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., in July, seeks to speed up that process, in part by expediting relief funds being disbursed to fishermen. It also seeks to add avenues for relief for non-commercial fishermen, including charter operators. Fisheries disasters can be awarded in a variety of circumstances, including natural disasters, undetermined causes or causes beyond the control of fisheries managers. However, the current process only includes commercial fisheries, said Chris Oliver, the assistant administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “I think the law should provide clarity and direction to us as to whether we could and should include (charter or sport fisheries) revenue losses in the calculation,” he said in a Sept. 25 hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. NMFS is aware of the delay problem and is actively developing regulations for the disaster process that will streamline and improve it, Oliver wrote in his testimony to the committee. He wrote that SB 2346 aligns with many of the federal administration’s priorities for streamlining the process, such as providing deadlines for key steps in the process and clear requirements for what requestors need to submit. Rachel Baker, the deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, wrote in her testimony to the committee that while the process of declaring a disaster is well understood, distributing relief monies is less clear. The delay may make the process seem less useful to stakeholders, she wrote. “Under the current process, there is little to no guidance for requestors or the public describing the steps in the process or the criteria being used by the federal government to evaluate proposed spending plans for disaster relief funds,” she wrote. “This lack of clarity makes it challenging to navigate the process and inform affected fishery participants and the public about the potential outcomes and timelines for evaluation of a proposed spending plan and the distribution of disaster relief funds.” During the hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan asked Oliver if the bill should provide more guidance to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NMFS on how to determine disaster declarations and funding. “I think part of the point of the bill is that NOAA and, significantly, (the Office of Management and Budget) might have too much discretion under current law and not enough direction when it comes to the fisheries disaster process,” Sullivan said. “(Wicker’s) bill remedies that.” Ron Warren, the director of fish policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, wrote in his comments that Washington has seen an increase in both the frequency and severity of fisheries disasters due to natural disasters since 2008, disrupting the state’s significant fishing economy. The delay in relief funding following the 2015 coho disaster was “especially concerning,” he wrote, as the request from Washington had been fast-tracked. “Given that NOAA scientists have noted another marine heatwave occurring off Washington’s coasts since June of this year, which may be comparable to that observed in 2014, our fisheries could face another disastrous year in 2020,” he wrote. “If that occurs, the local businesses within our fishing communities cannot wait another three years for any potential relief. These processes must be streamlined and improved — it’s that simple.” The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife raised a few concerns about the bill in its current form, noting that the bill should ensure fast-tracked disaster relief funding shouldn’t come from other areas of NOAA operations and that fisheries remain a priority, especially when competing with aquaculture operations, Warren wrote. In their comments, multiple senators connect climate change impacts with increasing instability in fisheries. Outside Alaska, multiple Florida fisheries have been impacted for the past four years by increasingly pervasive algal blooms, and the flooding in the Mississippi River basin in 2019 led to freshwater incursion into the delta and Lake Pontchartrain, killing the majority of the oysters in the Mississippi Sound. Washington state has asked for two fisheries disaster declarations in 2018 and 2019, following a sweeping coho salmon disaster declaration from 2015. Warren told the committee that scientists have connected the recent decline in salmon runs to “the Blob,” a persistent ocean temperature anomaly in the Pacific Ocean from 2013-16 that was connected to a number of ecosystem disruptions. Oliver said in answer to a question that NMFS doesn’t have “the specific data” to say whether climate change will definitively increase fisheries disasters, though scientists have generally agreed that warmer ocean waters have contributed to an increase in harmful algal blooms and increased hurricane frequency. “I think that we are seeing movement of fish from one area to another,” Oliver said. “Whether those particular fish patterns of movements as they’re affected by warm water result in disasters would be difficult for me to speculate. Whether those changes result in fisheries disasters or not, we are in a constant pattern of trying to understand that so we can respond.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

North Pacific council votes to hike observer fees in 2021

The costs for on-board fisheries observers will be increasing, and no one in the industry is particularly happy about it. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to adjust the observer fee percentage to 1.65 percent of ex-vessel values. It was previously set at 1.25 percent. The increase is intended to cover additional observer services to reach the target coverage rate set out by the council for the various fisheries across the North Pacific region. Observers are hired through a federal contracting system. On board, the observers document the catches of both target species and bycatch, and take samples from the catch, among other responsibilities. Typically, they have training in biological sciences and fisheries. Federally managed fisheries are designated as either partial or full coverage, with the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, determining where observers need to go based on the necessary data for each year. Fishermen in the partial coverage category pay a 1.25 percent fee on their landings to cover the cost of observing and the deployment of electronic monitoring systems, collected by the processors on behalf of NMFS. After the program was restructured in 2013, NMFS provided about $4.5 million in funding to help cover operations, and the federal government has contributed funds every year since — about 32 percent of total costs, according to documents submitted to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. However, with the likelihood of federal support diminishing and costs increasing, the council has been looking for ways to fund the program through industry fees. The fee change will be delayed until 2021, making the funds available to pay for at-sea coverage by mid-2022, according to a memo from council staff member Diana Evans. “It should be noted that while the scope of this analysis is focused narrowly on the amount of the observer fee, the Council is also pursuing parallel initiatives with the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC) to evaluate additional ways to improve cost efficiency for the program,” she wrote. Stakeholders were everywhere from fiercely opposed to begrudgingly supportive, but no one seems to be happy about the increase, particularly in the fixed-gear fleet. Most asked the council to cap the cost increase and instead pursue containment measures and efficiencies to avoid overburdening fishermen. Many recognized that the observer program is important enough to have to continue, but were concerned about the long-term trajectory. Partial coverage is more expensive per trip than full-coverage fisheries. In 2018, a single observer day cost $1,380, while full-coverage observer days cost $382 per day. In theory, the observer fee is supposed to be shared between the processors and fishermen, but the fee analysis completed by council staff indicates that the burden may be shifted more toward the harvesters than the processors, as the existence of a tax lowers the dockside price. The North Pacific Fisheries Association, a trade group based in Homer, pointed to this in connection with its opposition to a fee increase. “NPFA appreciates that the Observer Program is operating on a tight budget, but so are our members,” NPFA President Malcolm Milne wrote in a comment to the council. “We’ve put a lot of effort into the development of a workable Electronic Monitoring Program and have consistently participated in NPFMC committees and workgroups including the FMAC and its subgroups. It is imperative that the Observer Program control its costs and demonstrate some efficiencies and effectiveness before we would willing pay more money for it.” The trawl fleet agreed, though the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative “begrudgingly” supported the fee increase to sustain the observer program, said Heather Mann, the group’s executive director. “We need the observer program,” she said in testimony to the council. “We use it to manage fisheries. When I say begrudgingly (support), I also want to see cost containment measures … We can’t just let the program blow up; we need this program. So let’s fix it.” She added that the group supported the motion that raised fees equally across the fishing sectors, rather than varying rates across sectors. One alternative proposed in the fee analysis would have internalized the cost increase of vessels limited by protected species catch limits to those vessels — specifically, the prohibited catch species-limited trawl fleet. The analysis reasoned that PSC catch by trawl vessels imposes costs on other sectors, but Mann argued that it isn’t fair to single out the trawl vessels. Oceana, a national ocean conservation advocacy nonprofit, supported the fee increase to maintain coverage levels but also encouraged the council to pursue cost containment measures. In its comments, the organization advocated for the council to switch all Gulf of Alaska trawl vessels to the full-coverage category, particularly to control bias in sampling because of the presence of an observer and to make costs more efficient for broader coverage. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association also opposed the fee increases until the council looks for efficiencies and cost containment measures. Project Coordinator Dan Falvey told the council that the organization favored the continued implementation of electronic monitoring, which has equipment costs but is generally cheaper than a human observer and easier for small vessels. With current costs increases, he said the program is unsustainable. “How would (the council) sharpen your pencil, shave off 10 percent of the program costs while still getting the coverage rate?” he said. Along with passing the 1.65 percent increase, the council passed a set of priorities for the partial coverage category focusing on cost containment. Among the immediate items for work are conversion of pelagic, or midwater, trawl fisheries to electronic monitoring with shoreside sampling, an integrated monitoring plan for fixed gear that combines electronic monitoring, shoreside sampling and at-sea coverage as needed, and optimizing the size and composition of the fixed gear observed and electronic monitoring. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Crabbers face another round of harvest cuts

Bering Sea crabbers started their 2019-20 season this week with a mixed harvest bag and an uncertain future for their fisheries. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which collaboratively manage the state’s crab fisheries, announced the catch limits and overfishing limit for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Bristol Bay crab fisheries last week, just in time for the fisheries to open Oct. 15. While the eastern Bering Sea snow crab fishery’s total allowable catch is up, the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery’s is down and there won’t be a Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery at all. The St. Matthew Island blue king crab and Pribilof blue and red king crab fisheries will remain closed due to stock depletion. Most of these were not terribly surprising to many crab fishermen and fishery stakeholders. The exception was in the Tanner crab fishery — also called the bairdi fishery, after the crab’s scientific name, said Jamie Goen, the executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Association. “I would say we were surprised that we’re not having a bairdi fishery,” she said. “It’s discouraging, because our crab stocks in general are declining.” The survey data collected in the Bering Sea District Tanner crab fishery showed the stock didn’t have enough mature crab to justify a fishery, according to survey data provided to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. ADFG announced that there would be no fishery on Oct. 6, citing a lack of mature male crab biomass in the survey data. That means no Tanner crab can be kept in the snow crab fishery, either. The Tanner crab fishery has seesawed since rationalization was implemented there in 2005. The fishery was open through 2010, when it was determined to be overfished and closed. After it reopened in 2013, the total allowable catch, or TAC, climbed until 2016, when the fishery was closed due to a lack of available mature female biomass, according to the survey that year. The fishery west of 166 degrees West longitude reopened in 2017-18 and 2018-19, with TACs of 2.5 million pounds and 2.4 million pounds, respectively; the fishery east of that line has been closed since 2016. The survey data provided to the North Pacific council determined that the Bering Sea Tanner crab stock is not overfished, but biomass of male crabs has been steadily declining. “Since 2014 the trend has been a steady decline, with male biomass currently at its lowest point (28,000 (tons)) since 2000,” the survey states. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery has been going through a similar decline over time. Though it’s not closed this year, the TAC is set at 3.797 million pounds, about 12 percent less than last year’s TAC. About 3.4 million pounds is allocated to individual fishing quota, or IFQ, holderss and 379,700 pounds to Community Development Quota, or CDQ, groups, according to ADFG. The survey data provided to the council notes that environmental conditions are likely playing a role in the red king crab’s decline, depressing recruitment. Crab stocks in Alaska generally spiked in the 1970s before swinging low again in the 1980s, then high again in the 1990s. “Due to lack of recruitment, mature and legal crab should continue to decline next year,” the survey report states. “Current crab abundance is still low relative to the late 1970s, and without favorable environmental conditions, recovery to the high levels of the late 1970s is unlikely.” The downward trend in the red king crab fishery is particularly concerning for the fleet. Wild Alaska red king crab commands a high market price and is consistently one of the highest-value fisheries in the United States. Ex-vessel prices have nearly doubled in the last 10 years, rising from an average of $5.11 per pound in 2008 to $9.27 per pound in 2018, according to Fish and Game. “It’s our highest-value stock,” Goen said. The Eastern Bering Sea snow crab fishery is a bright spot, though. Recent survey data has shown strong recruitment, and the 2020 TAC is set at just more than 34 million pounds — about 23 percent more than last year — apportioned with about 30.6 million pounds to IFQ fisheries and about 3.4 million pounds to CDQs, according to Fish and Game. The stock was previously declared overfished in 1999 and has steadily increased since, according to survey data provided to the council. After the observed mature male biomass dropped to an all-time low in 2017, it has increased again as a large recruitment moves through the age classes. The boost in the eastern Bering Sea snow crab biomass has helped offset some of the downturns in the fishery, but there’s a lot of uncertainty in the fleet about the future, Goen said. “It’s ocean acidification, it’s the warming ocean conditions, lack of sea ice, and all the data unknowns,” Goen said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty among the fleet. We’re definitely looking to the science. We’re trying to understand better how (the crab) move, and these stocks are moving further north now from where they normally are… I would say it’s too soon to know what the crab fishers are doing.” There are a lot of unknowns about the factors affecting crab life cycles, recruitment and maturity. Goen pointed to an ongoing National Marine Fisheries Service study using saildrones to track tagged red king crab, gathering more information about seasonal movement, habitat use and interactions with groundfish and trawl fisheries, as well as how crab movement is changing amid changing ocean conditions. If the study proves successful, it may be expanded to other crab stocks. Strong demand is pushing prices for crab higher, according to a presentation by the McDowell Group economist Garrett Evridge at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s All Hands meeting in Anchorage this week. However, threats to the market include tariffs overseas — particularly in China, one of Alaska’s three largest trading partners in seafood — and increasing competition. About 70 percent of the world’s supply of red king crab comes from Russia, while only 10 percent to 15 percent comes from Alaska. Similarly, Alaska produces about 10 percent of the world’s snow crab supply, while Canada produces 45 percent, according to the presentation. Hannah Lindoff, the international program director for ASMI, wrote in an email that the tariffs have driven Chinese consumers toward Chilean and Russian king crab and Canadian snow crab. “Traditionally, crab has been one of the most preferred seafood products in both mainland China and Hong Kong and demand outstrips supply for live king crab into Hong Kong,” she said. “Prior to the current trade situation, Alaska snow crab was an especially popular item at hotel restaurant buffets.” However, she added that recent concerns in Hong Kong about high metal levels in European brown crab have driven a shift toward Alaska seafood. Additionally, Evridge wrote in an email that some of the downward trend in red king crab can be replaced by Southeast’s golden king crab fisheries, where the stocks are doing somewhat better. “One thing that’s unique about the current period is that golden king crab volume is higher than red crab—it’s not usually like that,” he wrote. “Some substitution can occur between the two species. But the golden variety is smaller and generally more difficult to handle as it has sharper spines.” ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Board of Fisheries work session kicks off annual meeting cycle

Hundreds of fishery stakeholders and scientists will gather in Anchorage next week as the state Board of Fisheries begins its annual meeting cycle with a two-day work session. The seven-member board sets the rules for the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. It meets four to six times each year in various communities on a three-year rotation; this year the focus is on Kodiak and Cook Inlet. The board and the public also will learn the latest on how a changing climate and off-kilter ocean chemistry are affecting some of Alaska’s most popular seafood items at an Oct. 23 “talk and Q&A” on ocean acidification, or OA, in Alaska. And they undoubtedly will be astounded to learn that despite salmon being Alaska’s most iconic fish, only two studies have looked at salmon response to OA, and both were conducted outside of Alaska. Most of the research to date has focused specifically on crab and fish stocks, said Bob Foy, director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Auke Bay lab in Juneau who will lead the Anchorage presentation. Ocean acidification is caused when carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere dissolves in the ocean, lowering the water’s pH level and making it more acidic. The imbalance prevents marine creatures from forming shells and skeletons, among other things. “We’ve found effects on Tanner crab and red king crab in the laboratory. Interestingly, on a positive note, we have found very little effect, if any, in the early life stages of juvenile snow crab. So, there’s some hope for that species,” Foy said. “For fish, we’ve found limited if any effects on pollock, but we have found effects on cod and some flatfish species.” Most studies to date have focused on direct effects to an animal, Foy said, but future work will take a “bottoms up” approach to learn how ecosystem changes affect their metabolism and body functions. “We know more recently from the large changes we’ve seen in the climate and the increased warming, the heat waves we’ve seen in Alaska, that the lower trophic levels are dramatically affected by that heat. And those effects have been observed in the larger commercial fish species such as cod,” Foy said, referring to the 80 percent cod crash last year in the Gulf of Alaska that is blamed on imbalances caused by warmer water. The real concern, Foy said, is the speed at which changes are occurring. “It’s difficult to assess, difficult to manage,” he said. “Now we’ve got important commercial species moving thousands of kilometers over a couple of years in the Bering Sea, Northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea. That shows us that these populations will try to adapt, they will move and push the ranges of their physiology and their tolerance. The unknown is whether or not they can adapt at the speed at which everything is changing.” Early victims of OA already are known to be pteropods, microscopic floating snails that make up a huge portion of the diets of juvenile pink salmon. Research elsewhere also has shown that acidity affects growth rates of pink salmon and impairs the sense of smell in cohos. Evaluating the risks to Alaska salmon will be part of the discussion by Toby Schwoerer, a research associate at the University of Alaska Institute for Social and Economic Research Associate. Being forewarned is being forearmed, said Bob Foy. “The importance of providing information and educating ourselves is critical,” he stressed. “Our goal is to get the word out to the commercial industry, coastal communities, to managers and policymakers so we can better understand how these changes in the environment may lead to changes in our economies, in our livelihoods and our ways of life in Alaska.” The OA talk will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at the Egan Center starting at 5:30 p.m. Contact Darcy Dugan at the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network for more information at [email protected] Crab numbers As Bering Sea crab fisheries got underway on Oct. 15 the fleet has less crab to haul up overall. Crabbers were relieved to get an opener for Bristol Bay red king crab with a catch reduced to just less than 3.8 million pounds of mature male crabs, the only ones that can be retained for sale. As expected, the snow crab total catch was increased by 24 percent to 34 million pounds. There will be no fishery for bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s larger cousin. A catch of 2.4 million pounds was allowed last year but surveys showed there were not enough crab to meet a threshold for an opener. Likewise, closures will remain for blue king crab at St. Matthew Island, and for blue and red king crab at the Pribilof Islands where the stocks remain depleted. That’s not the case for Dungeness crab in the Gulf of Alaska and all along the Pacific coast where fisheries are booming. Southeast Alaska’s summer fishery produced over four million pounds for more than 185 crabbers and strong catches have continued in the fall opener that runs through November. At the westward region, which includes Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula, Dungeness crab fisheries are booming and Kodiak is no exception. Since May, a fleet of 13 boats has hauled up 1.2 million pounds, double last year’s catch. “We’re certainly on track to break 1.3 million pounds if not more. We’ve got another few weeks left in the season that closes October 31,” said Nat Nichols, area manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Kodiak. “We knew that this year was going to be good based on reports from the fishery last year, Nichols added. “We knew that there was a big year class of small crab that were going to recruit into the fishery and we’re seeing the results of that now.” Crab abundance is quite cyclical, Nichols said, and at least for the short term, the outlook for Dungies is good. “It seems like when we get these pulses of crab coming through, they last for a season or three,” he explained. “I have hopes that the fishing we’re experiencing this year may carry into next year. What I’ve heard from some of the fleet is that they’re still seeing small crab and we may have a few more good seasons in front of us. So that’s something to look forward to.” Westward crabbers are reportedly getting $2.60 to $2.75 a pound for their Dungeness catches. Industry updates Alaska’s seafood industry includes more than 9,000 fishing vessels, 87 large shoreside processing plants and generates 60,000 jobs annually. Those are just a few of the fishing industry updates unveiled at the recent Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s All Hands meeting in Anchorage. Here’s a sampler compiled by the McDowell Group: Alaska’s catches in 2018 reached 5.8 billion pounds with Alaska pollock comprising 59 percent of the volume. The $2 billion value of the harvest was led by salmon at 36 percent. Nearly 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported; through the first half of 2019 the value of exports to China declined 15 percent. The 2019 salmon catch ranks eighth for all-time harvests. Just 14 percent of the salmon was canned compared to 40 percent in the early 2000s. Alaska is the world’s largest producer of Pacific cod, which is at a 20-year low. Current halibut harvest levels are just 20 percent of what they were 20 years ago. The export value of sablefish is down 30 percent due mostly to small fish and losses from whale predation. Strong demand for crab is pushing prices higher. Alaska accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent of global red king crab supply with 70 percent coming from Russia; for snow crab, Alaska produces less than 10 percent of the supply with 45 percent coming from eastern Canada. About 500 million pounds of more than 10 different kinds of flatfish are caught each year in Alaska valued at $100 million. Pacific Ocean perch is the main rockfish taken at 100 million pounds valued at $25 million. Looking ahead, strong or stable pollock prices are a bright spot and the 2019 salmon catch will be one of the most valuable ever. One caution: trade disputes remain a threat and more tariffs could be coming this month or in mid-December. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut, sablefish bycatch levels front and center again for council

Halibut catches fluctuate based on the ups and downs of the stock from California to the farthest reaches of the Bering Sea. If the numbers decline, so do the catches of commercial and sport fishermen. But similar reductions don’t apply to the boats taking millions of pounds of halibut as bycatch in other fisheries. In the Bering Sea, for example, there is a fixed cap totaling 7.73 million pounds of halibut allowed to be taken as bycatch for trawlers, longliners and pot boats targeting groundfish, with most going to trawlers. The cap stays the same, regardless of changes in the halibut stock. Nearly all of the bycatch gets tossed over the side, dead or alive, as required by federal law. Stakeholders are saying it is time for that to change. This month, after four years of analyses and deliberation, managers are moving towards a new “abundance based” management plan that would tie bycatch levels to the health of the halibut stock as determined by annual surveys. Levels of bycatch (also called prohibited species catch, or PSC) are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in waters from three to 200 miles offshore, where the bulk of Alaska’s harvests come from. In several regions, the bycatch allowed each year exceeds the catches that can be taken by fishermen who count on halibut to keep their small, seagoing businesses afloat. In a letter to the council, fisherman Josh Wisniewski of Homer cited a 2013 scenario. “The total amount of halibut that could be removed…was less than the prospective amount of halibut bycatch allowed. In other words, we didn’t have enough fish in the water to cover allowable bycatch and there would have been no directed fishery. Only emergency negotiations preserved opportunity for directed fishermen,” he wrote, adding “when halibut abundance declines, the proportion to the bycatch users increases and the amount to the directed halibut users decreases.” “I believe it is imperative, as a matter of conservation and equity, that the Council continue to move forward and develop an abundance-based management approach that provides the ability for the bycatch cap to go up and down based on stock abundance. The fixed cap, under today’s halibut stock status, is both outdated and inequitable,” Wisniewski added. Along with halibut, the council is getting an angry earful for the amount of sablefish, or black cod, that’s also going over the side by the big, mostly Seattle-based boats fishing for deep water flatfish in the Bering Sea. Scientists with the council revealed last week that sablefish bycatch of nearly 5 million pounds has been taken by Bering Sea trawlers this year, more than triple their allowance of 1.4 million pounds. They said that “given current information, there is a good chance that the Bering Sea overfishing limit for sablefish in 2019 will be exceeded.” That would close all directed sablefish fisheries in federal waters for the rest of the year. In a letter to the council, Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, called “the amount of trawl inflicted mortality unacceptable.” The Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owner’s Association and Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union agreed. “Our first concern is that, by allowing the bycatch to reach these levels, any assumption that we were saving fish to help rebuild this resource cannot be sustained,” both wrote in a letter to the NPFMC, adding, “Having nearly 5 million pounds of bycatch of juvenile sablefish is not acceptable, ever, and particularly if this is becoming an annual event.” The numbers of fish coming and going over the side as bycatch in the Bering Sea are straightforward because nearly all of the boats are required to have 100 percent observer coverage. That’s not the case in the Gulf of Alaska where in 2018 observer coverage included just one out of every six fishing trips. Based on those observations, groundfish trawlers in the Central Gulf caught nearly 4.7 million pounds of sablefish as bycatch, more than double their 2.3 million-pound allotment. Halibut bycatch in the Central and Western Gulf in 2018 totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all by trawlers with longliners a distant second. They also took 16,802 chinook salmon, according to state and federal data compiled by Oceana. “For comparison, the total chinook allocation for all sport fishing in all of Southeast Alaska is only 23,900 fish,” Jamie Karnik, Oceana’s Juneau-based Pacific Communications Manager said in a statement. IPHC researchers have cautioned that Gulf bycatch numbers could be much higher due to the data gaps. “This is important not only for overall observer coverage, but for the ‘observer effect,’ where it has been shown that on average over the last three years bottom trawl vessels caught 30 percent less fish overall when they had an observer on board, yet those trips are used as the baseline for data on unobserved trips,” Karvik said. There’s not a fisherman alive who likes throwing fish over the side. Many Gulf trawl fishermen and trade groups for years have urged the council to craft a new management plan to “slow the race for fish” and allow them to fish cooperatively or under a catch share program. In June 2012, the Council initiated the process but in 2016, citing too much division among stakeholders, all work on a Gulf trawl bycatch management plan was postponed “indefinitely.” Cod in the USA Many Americans are skeptical about buying fish and the mislabeling of seafood is rampant. One fishing company is removing all the guesswork from consumers. “America’s Cod Company” is the new red, white and blue brand that Alaskan Leader Seafoods is splashing all over its packaging. The company’s four longliners fish for cod in the Bering Sea. “We’re sitting here with this amazing Alaska fishery, which we’ve all been born into, and we just want to represent it. Across America there’s so many foreign products that I think the domestic consumer is interested in something that’s Made in the USA,” said Keith Singleton, head of Alaskan Leader’s value added division. The company was selected last week as a leading innovator by Seafood Source in its 20th annual list of the top 25 U.S. seafood suppliers, citing its consumer friendly, pop in the oven cod with flavored sauces and the latest, a Fish and Chips kit which will debut at next month’s Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Big wins at the Symphony’s new products competition two years ago has led to shelf space at Costco and a pet food deal with Purina. The pet food market, Singleton said, fits the company’s goal to use every part of the fish. “The cod liver oil is spoken for and we have a great stomach program and we’ve got a roe program,” he said. “On the pet food side, we have the head program. It’s a growing portion of our business and we’re all about one hundred percent utilization. We’re not there yet, but we’re darn close. And we’re very proud of that.” October is National Seafood Month Be sure to celebrate Alaska seafood, fishermen, processors and all the related industries that keep fishing communities afloat! ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: North Pacific council set to convene in Homer

Federal stewards of Alaska’s fisheries will meet in Homer for the first time since 1983 as they continue their pursuit of involving more people in policy maki From Sept. 30 to Oct. 10, the Spit will be aswarm with entourages of the 15 member North Pacific Fishery Management Council which oversees more than 25 stocks in waters from three to 200 miles offshore, the source of most of Alaska’s fish volumes. The NPFMC is one of eight regional councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 that booted foreign fleets to waters beyond 200 miles and “Americanized” the Bering Sea fisheries. “The council certainly is interested in engaging more stakeholders, particularly from rural and Alaska Native communities, and by going to more coastal communities, it allows them more opportunity for input into the process,” said Dave Witherell, council executive director, adding that in recent years the council has expanded beyond Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka to convene in Nome and Dutch Harbor. At Homer, following the lead of the state Board of Fisheries, a first ever “Intro to the Council Process” workshop will be held to make the policy process less daunting. Witherell said that came at the suggestion of the council’s local engagement committee created in 2018. “It’s quite a steep learning curve to understand all the ins and outs and goings on at a council meeting and what’s written in our analyses,” Witherell said. “We’re trying to open it up so that someone who may not follow or live and breathe the council process can still participate. We’re trying to put it out there in plain language.” Plain language is also what you’ll find on the revamped council website. All postings of meeting agendas, document overviews, etc. are in a “conversational style” and have been consolidated in one place, said Maria Davis, council IT specialist. “Some of the topics are very complex so distilling them down into two or three sentences may not be exactly what is happening, but it gives them a large overview. Then you can read the analysis if you’re really interested in a lot of the detail,” she said adding that searchable digital content is included back to 2014. “It’s so easy to find documents and it’s so easy for the staff to upload their documents,” Davis said. “There’s also a public comment portal where you can read comments and you can upload your comments for committee and council meetings under each agenda item. “It’s very user friendly and you get a return email that says thank you, your comment has been received and council members and the general public can see it immediately. It’s really been a game changer as far as accessibility for the public.” The council members know that the topics they discuss and the decisions they make affect many who are not directly involved in fishing, Davis added. “It’s also all the businesses where you live year round and the communities,” she said. “We want to hear from them and we want to make it easy and not intimidating.” The industry will get a first glimpse at potential 2021 catches of Alaska pollock, cod, sablefish, rockfish, flounders and other whitefish at the Homer meeting. www.npfmc.org More women in fish Dave Witherell stepped up to the NPFMC executive director role when after 16 years Chris Oliver moved to Washington, D.C., to take the helm at NOAA Fisheries two years ago. Witherell chose Diana Evans to be deputy director, the first woman to hold that position. Evans has worked as a fishery analyst for the council since 2002. At the Homer meeting, two women also will be newly seated to replace Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer, whose terms have expired. Cora Campbell and Nicole Kimball both have previously represented the State of Alaska on the NPFMC but they now will be industry representatives. Campbell, a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is now CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods. Kimball served for many years as federal fisheries coordinator for ADFG and now is vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association. Carina Nichols of Sitka was hired by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan as a new legislative assistant focusing on fisheries. Nichols has fished for sablefish and halibut in Southeast and salmon at Bristol Bay. She also has been a member of the council Advisory Panel. “I am glad to welcome Carina to my team in Washington, D.C. Her many years of experience both working on the water and in fisheries policy brings a depth and breadth of knowledge about the issues facing Alaska’s fisheries and coastal communities that will be invaluable in guiding my work serving Alaskans,” Sullivan wrote in an emailed message. Big Bay payday! Bristol Bay salmon fishermen are set to take home their biggest paychecks ever. The 2019 preliminary ex-vessel (dockside) value of $306.5 million for all salmon species ranks first in the history of the fishery and was 248 percent of the 20-year average of $124 million, according to an ADFG release. The 2019 sockeye salmon run of 56.5 million fish was the fourth-largest and it was the fifth consecutive year that inshore runs topped 50 million fish. The all-species harvest of 44.5 million is the second largest on record, after the 45.4 million taken in 1995. This year over 43 million of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest was sockeyes. Here are the 2019 salmon base prices at Bristol Bay with comparisons to 2018 in parentheses: sockeyes, $1.35 per pound ($1.26); chinook, $0.50 ($0.80); chums, $0.25 ($0.43); pinks, $0.05 ($0.20); and cohos, $0.55 ($0.80). The weight, harvest, and price of each species were used to estimate values and do not include future price adjustment for icing, bleeding, or production bonuses. Fish guts go plastic A 23-year-old student at the University of Sussex in England has invented a biodegradable plastic bag made from fish guts. Lucy Hughes was bothered by the “unwanted offcuts” from seafood processing that are dumped each year and discovered that red algae along the local coastline worked as a binding agent. SeafoodNews reports that Hughes used the algae to bind together the fish waste proteins into a translucent, plastic-like material that biodegrades in four to six weeks. Initial testing suggests that it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based plastic counterpart. Hughes plans to commercialize her product called MarinaTex. “For me, MarinaTex represents a commitment to material innovation and selection by incorporating sustainable, local and circular values into design,” she said. “As creators, we should not limit ourselves in designing to just form and function, but rather form, function and footprint.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

BBNC nets two fishing companies in one deal

The Alaska Native corporation with a “fish first” principle is making its first foray back into the signature Alaska industry in roughly 40 years. Bristol Bay Native Corp. announced an agreement Sep. 17 for it to purchase Blue North Fisheries and Clipper Seafoods, two Seattle-based longline fishing companies that operate in the large Bering Sea Pacific cod fishery. BBNC CEO Jason Metrokin said in an interview that Blue North and Clipper will be merged into a new subsidiary, Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods, when the deal closes Sept. 30. Metrokin said BBNC focuses on providing economic value and employment opportunities for its shareholders while being good stewards of the region’s land and resources, and acquiring Blue North and Clipper was an opportunity to check all of those boxes. “They’ve got experienced management and executives; they have a quality brand and they’re known for safe fishing and quality products,” he said of the fishing companies. “You add all of those things up at a time when BBNC was looking for an investment in seafood and it made tremendous sense for us to start here.” Bringing ownership of the seafood resource back to Alaska — through the Pacific cod fishing quota held by the companies — was very important to BBNC, Metrokin added. BBNC owned Peter Pan Seafoods in the late 1970s and has been out of the seafood business since, he said. The company has also formed Bristol Bay Seafood Investments LLC, a holding company for Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods and any other future seafood forays, according to a Sept. 17 company statement. Clipper Seafoods President David Little, who will manage the merged company, said BBNC is simply a “really good fit” for Blue North and Clipper. “I’ve always believed, and I know Mike Burns, the president of Blue North feels the same way, that the Native corporations or the Native economic development corporations were always going to be the rightful owners of these seafood businesses over time and so we’ve been talking to a number of them over the years and we found that Bristol Bay Native Corp., in our opinion, is the leader of all of them and we’re really impressed with the way they run their operation and their business knowledge,” Little said. He added that senior staff at the companies will remain with Bristol Bay Seafoods. By combining the Blue North and Clipper fleets, Bristol Bay Seafoods will have a fleet of 11 large fishing vessels and it will hold 37.4 percent of the freezer longline sector Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod quota, according to Little. He said the freezer-longline sector holds about half of the overall harvest limit of Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod, which is about 175,000 metric tons this year. Set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and approved by National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, the annual total allowable catch for the massive Western Alaska Pacific cod fishery has fallen sharply from its near-term high of 261,000 metric tons in 2012. The freezer longline sector is one of nine gear and fishing type sectors that fish for Pacific cod in Western Alaska waters. However, Little noted that cod stocks can rebound quickly and there is optimism among cod fishery managers and participants that current juvenile recruitment can lead to more harvest opportunity soon. Based on Little’s figures, Bristol Bay Seafoods would hold approximately 33,000 metric tons of Pacific cod harvest quota in 2019. According to the latest data available from NMFS, the first wholesale price for Bering Sea Pacific cod caught by freezer longline vessels averaged $1,665 per metric ton in 2017, which would translate to nearly $55 million of wholesale value for the combined Blue North and Clipper 2019 quota. Additionally, freezer longline vessels averaged $6.4 million of revenue in 2017, according to NMFS reports, or $70.4 million total extrapolated to the 11 vessels owned by the two companies. Metrokin declined to disclose a price for the deal, but he did say it “will ultimately be one of BBNC’s largest company acquisitions in our history.” Blue North and Clipper are companies that have recognizable brands, high-quality products and a presence in markets around the world, making them a sound investment despite the current down cycle in Pacific cod stocks, Metrokin said. And while freezer longline vessels cumulatively harvest thousands of tons of cod each year, Little described the freezer longline sector as a “boutique fishery” in that longline vessels can typically harvest only about 10 percent of the volume of fish that a trawl vessel can in a given day. Instead, freezer longline companies focus on quality instead of quantity. “Our fish is primarily destined for white table cloth restaurants around the world whereas a lot of trawl-caught fish is destined for fish and chips,” Little said. The Blue North and Clipper fleets are comprised of relatively new vessels, meaning there are no immediate plans to invest in new vessels or other major infrastructure, according to Little, who also said the companies’ offices are likely to remain Seattle where the fleets are based. The vessels will stay in Seattle when they’re not fishing simply because that’s where the shipyards are and large boats require lots of upkeep. Little noted that the busiest time for a fishing company’s office staff is usually when the vessels are home from the fishing grounds. “It’s important to have an office in Seattle or somewhere close to ship repair and maintenance,” he said. Metrokin said BBNC leadership is enthusiastic about getting back into the fishing industry through a fishery that takes place near the company’s region and aligns with its mission. “Every time we make a business decision we want to know what the benefits or impacts will be to fish and while this investment is outside of the Bristol Bay fishery, it still meets our value, our mantra, of fish first, so it’s very much in alignment with where BBNC is going,” he said. “It may be a stepping stone, a very large stepping stone back into the seafood sector and we’re excited about other opportunities that might present themselves down the road.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Second-best sockeye season highlights salmon harvest

“Unpredictable” is the way salmon managers describe Alaska’s 2019 salmon season, with “very, very interesting” as an aside. The salmon fishery is near its end, and a statewide catch of nearly 200 million salmon is only 6 percent off what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game number crunchers predicted, and it is on track to be the eighth-largest since 1975. The brightest spot of the season was the strong returns of sockeye salmon that produced a catch of more than 55 million fish, the largest since 1995 and the fifth consecutive year of harvests topping 50 million reds. The bulk of the sockeye catch – 43.2 million – came from Bristol Bay, the second-largest on record. It was a rollercoaster ride in many regions where unprecedented warm temperatures threw salmon runs off kilter and also killed large numbers of fish that were unable to swim upstream to their spawning grounds. Many salmon that made it to water faced temperatures of 75 degrees or more in some regions. “The hot dry weather for most of the summer resulted in low and warm water conditions in many of the important spawning systems around the state. The salmon had to spend more time in saltwater than they normally would, in the terminal areas near the stream mouths,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division. Despite the heat stress, escapement goals were met in most Alaska regions. “The runs returned in large enough numbers to make that happen. So that’s a bright spot,” said Bowers, a nearly 30-year salmon management veteran. It’s been difficult to get a good census on how many salmon might have perished in the heat wave, Bowers said, but managers are assessing potential impacts on future fish. “We’ve been taking reports from the public and we’ve had staff out in the field trying to collect information on the extent of those die-offs,” Bowers said. “We’re looking at all the data, but from what we’ve seen, the magnitude is relatively small and we don’t believe it has been significant enough to impact escapement.” “Now, whether the warm water and low water conditions will result in reduced viability of offspring from the fish spawning this year or increase overwintering mortality, that remains to be seen. But those are possibilities,” he added. The same environmental conditions are playing out favorably for salmon in westward regions, which adds to the unpredictability. “Particularly north of the Alaska Peninsula and the Bering Sea have been really favorable for salmon production at Bristol Bay, the Yukon, Norton Sound and Kotzebue,” Bowers said. “And we’re starting to see salmon move even further into the Arctic. On the North Slope, we’re seeing sockeye and pink salmon up there.” It’s a sign of the times, Bowers added, and the unpredictability brings new challenges to salmon managers. “It’s difficult to count on traditional run timings,” he explained. “We have so much run timing data for Pacific salmon and Alaska that go back over 100 years for some of the stocks that we rely on for in season management decisions. With a very compressed run such as at Bristol Bay, even a deviation of a few days creates a lot of uncertainty. Does that mean the run is late or not as large as forecast? “So that’s what we’re seeing in the last couple of years, this increased uncertainty in terms of run time and size.” Fish watch As salmon fishing winds down, hundreds of boats of all gear types and sizes are going after cod, rockfish, perch, flounders, Alaska pollock and many other species. Alaska halibut longliners have taken 73 percent of their nearly 18 million-pound catch limit with less than 5 million pounds remaining. Homer leads all ports for halibut landings followed by Seward and Kodiak. So far 58 percent of the nearly 26 million-pound sablefish quota has been caught. Sitka has topped Seward as the usual leading port for sablefish landings, with Kodiak third. Both the Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries end on Nov. 14. Fall means the start of dive fisheries for pricey sea cucumbers. On Oct. 7 divers will head down for nearly 2 million pounds of cukes in Southeast Alaska. A much smaller sea cucumber fishery of 165,000 pounds opens on Oct. 1 at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula. Red sea cucumbers last year paid out at more than $4 per pound to fishermen. The Panhandle’s popular spot shrimp fishery also opens Oct. 1. Fishermen using pots can haul up just more than a half-million pounds. Also in Southeast Alaska, the Dungeness crab fishery will reopen Oct. 1 in a year that could be the best in a decade. The catch for the summer fishery that wrapped up last month topped 4 million pounds and managers expect a good catch this fall. Dungies averaged $3.06 per pound making the summer fishery worth nearly $13 million at the docks. Here’s a new one: The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has established a season for the commercial harvest of detached kelp that has washed up on beaches in Lower Cook Inlet. Almanac call Share personal glimpses of your fishing life in photos, songs, stories, art, poems, musings and mischief in the second Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac. The call for submissions is going on now. “It’s a window into the lifestyle that so many of us live here in Alaska,” said Jamie O’Connor, a fisherman and head of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, an arm of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The almanac is modeled after a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792. Last year’s 141-page inaugural edition featured nearly 60 items from almost every Alaska region. It serves as a “cultural touchstone” for fishermen that reinforces their sense of community, O’Connor said, adding that she’s been pleasantly surprised at how popular the book has been with non-fishing people. Ultimately, the almanac celebrates the culture and builds understanding of the fishing life. The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac will be available in mid-November, just in time for holiday gift giving. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 1. Fish bucks give back American Seafoods Co. is again offering grants for community programs at Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. The majority of grant awards will range from $1,000 to $7,500 and be based on the need in the community, the number of people who will benefit from the program and the ability to garner matching funding. The deadline to submit applications is Oct. 14 and recipients will be announced by the Western Alaska Community Grant Board on Oct. 30. Apply at www.americanseafoods.com or contact Kim Lynch ([email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Dietary guidelines zero in on seafood

Federal agencies are meeting now through next March to define U.S. dietary guidelines for 2020-25, and a high-powered group of doctors and nutritionists are making sure the health benefits of seafood are front and center. For the first time in the 40-year history of the program, the dietary guidelines committee has posted the questions they are going to consider. They include the role of seafood in the neurocognitive development in pregnant moms for their babies, and in the diet of kids from birth to 24 months directly, said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. “We really got jazzed when we saw that because we wanted to figure out what the committee would find when it does its literature search on what medical evidence is out there and boy, did we find a lot,” Brenna said. Brenna also chairs the advisory council of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which on Sept. 17 is holding its 3rd annual in Washington, DC. The non-profit hosts the event as part of a public health campaign started in 2015 aimed at getting Americans to eat more seafood. More than 40 studies address the two committee questions, Brenna said, and provide evidence of how nutrients in seafood, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are so especially important to brain and eye development. “The brain and the retina in the eye are omega-3 organs. As calcium is to the bones, omega-3 is to the brain,” he said. “These kinds of data are exactly the kind of human study the dietary guidelines focus on. They are not cell studies, not rat studies, they are based on real studies on humans. It’s direct evidence. That’s why we are so excited.” For centuries, fish has been regarded as “brain food” and a plethora of studies has shown that seafood can prevent or relieve dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and reduce depression, among other things. “I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be thinking of seafood if they wanted to keep their brain in good working order,” Brenna said, adding that he is baffled why such positive health messages have not “stuck” in the U.S. Answers could be forthcoming in a discussion of Building Lifelong Seafood Consumers at the D.C. symposium. Unlike the meat or dairy industries who use sustained, national campaigns such as “Where’s the Beef?” or “Got Milk?”, the seafood industry has never banded together on its own behalf. “Getting the seafood industry together to promote one message has been difficult,” Brenna said, adding that the industry appears fragmented instead of coming together as a national “whole.” He is hopeful that putting the spotlight on seafood’s health advantages will help move the message and that national media will show more interest. “We’re generating the ammunition for the policy guys,” Brenna said. “There’s only so much that the science guys can do and boy, we’ve spent a lot of time doing it. We can lay the evidence in front of the policy makers. They have to implement it.” The 2015-20 dietary guidelines recommended at least two servings of seafood per week, but only one in 10 follow the recommendation. Consumption of seafood by Americans reached 16 pounds per person in 2017, in increase of 1.1 pounds versus 2016, according to federal data. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet five times with the last meeting tentatively scheduled for March 12-13, 2020. All meetings will be open to the public and two will include opportunity for public comment. Written comments are being accepted until the committee completes its work. A final report will be submitted to the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. Crab’s coming Bering Sea crabbers got some good news in advance of the season opener in mid-October. “We’ve been told that we will have a Bering Sea red king crab season. We don’t know what the catch will be yet but we understand that it will be reduced from last year. We really appreciate the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for giving us a heads up on that,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-cooperative Exchange, or ICE, which represents more than 75 percent of the crab fleet of about 85 boats. The 2018 catch limit for Bristol Bay red king crab was just 4.3 million pounds. Jacobsen said the catch will go into an eager market and make for a good pay day. “Our average price for king crab last year was $10.53 (per pound),” he said. “We’re expecting higher prices this year based on what we’re seeing in world markets.” The record price for Alaska red king crab was $10.84 per pound paid in 2011. No word yet on the catch quota for snow crab, or opilio, although it should increase from this year’s take of 27.5 million pounds. Surveys in 2018 showed a 60 percent boost in market sized male crabs and nearly the same for females. Bob Foy, director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s crab plan team, said it “documented one of the largest snow crab recruitment events biologists have ever seen.” Snow crab prices for the 2019 winter fishery are still being finalized, Jacobsen said, adding “it should be somewhere around $3.95 to $4 (per pound) average price.” A shortage of snow crab could prompt earlier fishing than the traditional mid-January start, he added. Crabbers also are keeping their fingers crossed for an opener for bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s bigger cousin. Jacobsen said the 2019 Tanner price “should average around $4.50 a pound.” Just 2.4 million pounds were allowed for harvest in the 2018-19 Tanner fishery, although crabbers say they see a lot more crab than what’s been showing up in annual trawl surveys. “It’s really hard to guess from one year to the next on the surveys. It might show something one year and you can’t find them the next,” he said. Jacobsen added that buyers like Red Lobster are featuring the larger bairdi Tanners on their menus and a closure would crimp those markets. “We’re really hopeful we can get a bairdi season this year so we can maintain that differentiation in the marketplace. It seems like we have to rebuild it every time we miss a year or two,” he said. Managers will reveal findings of the summer survey during the week of Sept. 16 in Seattle and finalize the catch quotas in early October. The Bering Sea crab fisheries open Oct. 15. Five species, five pieces Snack sized stories can teach a lot about Alaska salmon and connect people across the state. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that here is no other species that is as important to Alaska as salmon,” said Peter Westley, an assistant professor at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His students compile a Five Bites of Salmon newsletter that showcases stories and research about Alaska salmon as a way to “help increase salmon literacy and build a network of salmon connected people,” he said. A recent Five Bites highlighted lethal impacts of Alaska’s heat wave on salmon, what raging wildfires might mean for salmon habitat and interactive dives into 13 salmon regions that show, for example, that the Yukon is home to a larger watershed than Texas. The newsletter is a small offshoot of the college’s Salmonid Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation lab, or SEEC, which focuses on projects that help inform policy makers and sustain connections between salmon, people and place, Westley said. “Sustainability is not just about having a high abundance of salmon in some river,” he said. “It’s really about sustaining the connections to that resource on the landscape.” Research by SEEC lab students has revealed, for example, that larger numbers of adult coho salmon at Kodiak have a much higher dependence on Buskin Lake before they head downstream to spawn. Another showed for the first time that the demise of most Yukon River chinook seems to occur in the ocean and not in fresh water habitats. Research also is ongoing on hatchery strays and invasive Northern pike. The SEEC Lab also is a part of the Alaska Salmon and People project, a statewide initiative to quantify the varied states of salmon through histories, case studies and in depth data. Sign on to the Five Bites newsletter and learn how to make Blueberry Cured Salmon Gravlax. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Sockeye harvest breaks all-time top 5; pinks picking up

The 2019 salmon season has seen plenty of fish return to the state, but far from evenly across regions. As of Sept. 10, commercial fishermen across Alaska have landed 198.4 million salmon of all five species, about 8 percent less than the preseason forecast of 213.2 million. Most of that shortfall is in pink and chum salmon, which haven’t delivered on their forecasts so far, but a surplus of sockeye salmon helped make up for some of that gap. Statewide, commercial fishermen have landed more than 55.1 million sockeye, about 9 percent more than last year and 5 million more than the preseason forecast. The boom in sockeye salmon mostly landed in Bristol Bay, the state’s largest sockeye fishery. Commercial fishermen there landed about 43.2 million sockeye by the end of their season, eclipsing last year’s harvest of 41.2 million. The total sockeye run across the state is the largest since 1995 and the fourth-strongest season since 1975, according to a weekly harvest update from the McDowell Group and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Sockeye are still coming in, though; commercial fishermen in Kodiak landed 130,000 last week, according to the update. The sockeye harvest there clocked in at just more than 2 million fish as of Sept. 10, which is slightly less than the preseason forecast for the area. Kodiak has some of the latest sockeye runs in the state, and weaker runs tend to come in later than stronger runs, said area management biologist James Jackson. But like other areas of the state, Kodiak has seen sockeye salmon arrive near their terminal streams and hold in the salt water, waiting to enter the streams. “We’ve had sockeye holding in the Karluk Lagoon for what seems like a month now,” he said. The sockeye run hasn’t been exceptional, but the pink salmon run has done well in Kodiak this year. Pinks are the bread and butter for salmon fishermen there, and this year has brought more than 32.5 million of them so far. That’s significantly better than the total forecast harvest of 27 million pinks for 2019, and it showed up early, Jackson said. “The pink run mostly shows up in July and August, and we usually have a very small September component,” he said. “We had the fourth-largest July harvest of pinks, and the fourth-largest overall harvest of pinks, and we’re on track to have the largest September harvest ever.” The run this year never seemed to have a discernable peak, though, he said; the fish showed up early and just kept showing up. A warm summer with record-low precipitation all across the Gulf of Alaska coast, though, made escapement a little tricky for salmon, as creeks were warm and water was low. Kodiak is on track to have high escapements for pinks, Jackson said, though there will likely be some pre-spawning mortality, in part related to low water and limited oxygen. Pink salmon in other areas were slow to return early on. At the end of July, the statewide cumulative harvest was about 20 percent behind the previous odd-year harvest; as of Sept. 10, it’s only about 8 percent behind. Most of that upswing in harvest has come from Kodiak and Prince William Sound, where fishermen have harvested 31.5 million pink salmon since Aug. 8, according to ADFG’s weekly summary. “Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation wild stock pink salmon run entry was delayed this year, likely due to the abnormally warm weather and drought conditions in Prince William Sound,” the summary states. The low water in many creeks and warm temperatures for the majority of the summer reportedly led to many pink salmon holding offshore in Prince William Sound, delaying fisheries. The lack of precipitation in normally rainsoaked Cordova also led to a water shortage, which was compounded by the increased need at processing plants as the pink salmon season ramped up. Rain and cooler temperatures arrived across much of the Gulf coast on Labor Day weekend, bringing relief to many of the state’s parched communities. Chignik, which initially looked to be having a second summer of disastrously low sockeye returns, swung back into sockeye fishing in recent weeks as well. As of Sept. 10, 614,000 sockeye had been harvested in the Chignik Management Area, and though overall season harvest is less than than average, daily harvest is better than average for this time of year, according to ADFG’s weekly update. Participation is lower, though, in part due to fishermen heading elsewhere early in the season as the run failed to materialize. September is usually when commercial fishermen transition away from sockeye and pink salmon to coho. However, this year has presented slower returns of coho in general so far. Harvest in Prince William Sound and parts of Southeast are reportedly less than average. Statewide, fishermen have landed just more than 3 million coho, about 11 percent behind last year’s harvest. Jackson said Kodiak may see a better-than-average coho run as well, but harvest may be limited by participation. The fleet isn’t as motivated to fish for silvers if the price isn’t high enough, he said. Low water in some areas has challenged coho the same way it challenged other species of salmon. In the Mat-Su Valley, sportfishing managers closed the Little Susitna and the Deshka rivers to coho fishing effective Aug. 19 until Sept. 30 out of concern for the low numbers of coho entering the river, citing low water levels in the upper parts of the rivers. “The story of coho for 2019 is one of slower production,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist focusing on fisheries with the McDowell Group. Preliminary production numbers for coho show that harvest slowed down to about 250,000 fish last week, with the five-year average being double that. But compared to other species of salmon in Alaska, coho are not a particularly high-profile species like sockeye and king salmon, Evridge said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Commercial Fisheries Division sorts out budget cuts

Now the shuffling begins at Alaska fisheries offices around the state as the impacts from back and forth veto volleys become clearer. For the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, an $85 million budget, about half of which is from state general funds, reflects a $997,000 dollar cut for fiscal year 2020. Where and how the cuts will play out across Alaska’s far-flung coastal regions is now being decided by fishery managers. “Now that the salmon season is about over we’re taking a good close look at this and what we’re going to put in the water next season. We’ve been assured we can look at our (commercial fisheries) budget in total and reduce the lowest priority projects,” said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Some layoffs are likely and vacancies and retiree positions may not be filled to save money, he added. “We’ll be consolidating different groups across the state in an effort to keep as much as we can going that is mission critical in terms of work out in the field. Because the less information we have the more precautionary we’ll become in our management,” he said. Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s vetoes for commercial fisheries included $258,000 for surveys and stock assessment in Southeast, $240,000 in Southcentral, $300,000 from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, and $200,000 from the Westward Region. A possible list includes doing fewer or shorter surveys on Bering Sea juvenile chinook salmon, and relying on fewer weir or sonar tracking for sockeyes at the Susitna River drainage. Test line fisheries at Cook Inlet might be shortened and Tanner crab surveys at Prince William Sound could get the axe. Salmon weirs at Kodiak and Chignik may be reduced along with various groundfish stock assessment projects. Also cut by 50 percent were state travel funds for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and all ADFG divisions, except for members of advisory committees, or ACs, to the boards of Fisheries and Game. “The AC travel appropriation was not vetoed with credit to the governor for seeing the value of the local citizens involvement,” said Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner. “I’m told it will be tight but we think we can still manage the meetings.” The funding for directors of the state habitat and subsistence divisions (about $400,000) was rolled into the Office of Management and Budget, but their functions remain under ADFG. Vincent-Lang said he opted to not fill those positions and instead make the two divisions into “sections” to be able to retain more staff. “I probably would have lost two permitters out of habitat and two staff members that go out and conduct community surveys in the subsistence division just to have a director in those roles,” he explained. “There are deputy operations managers for each of those new sections. The one for habitat reports to Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan and the subsistence section reports directly to me. The functions of subsistence and habitat remain at ADF&G.” Seafood contest call The call is out for new seafood products for the 27th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafoods competition that will be celebrated at two gala events. The Symphony, hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, showcases new seafood products to boost their value and appeal to a wider range of customers. It features four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Plate and Beyond the Egg. “Beyond the Plate features byproducts or ‘specialty’ products. We’ve had salmon leather wallets things made of chitosan from crab shells, fish oil capsules, and pet treats is another big one,” said AFDF Executive Director Julie Decker. “Beyond the Egg includes products made with roe,” she added. “It could be a paste or jarred salmon roe or pollock roe. It is some of the high value and high nutrition part of the seafood that comes out of Alaska waters and we really want to encourage more roe product development.” Decker said the Symphony event is on a mission to acquire more major sponsors for three-year commitments to provide more money and stability for the dual seafood soirees. “We need more money in order to do more with the Symphony and have more impact for the industry and the coastal communities that rely on the industry,” Decker said. Another push is to grow the competition beyond the dozen or so entries the Symphony usually receives. “They can be from a company in the state, in the U.S. or in another country. Anyone that makes anything out of Alaska seafood can enter,” Decker said. The seafood entries will be judged at Pacific Marine Expo on Nov. 20 and first place winners will be announced there on Nov. 22. Second and third place winners, plus the grand prize, will be kept secret until a Feb. 24 Juneau legislative reception. Symphony winners get a free trip to the Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March. Decker said the Symphony has even more benefits in store for its winners. “We plan to start working with retailers to get commitments that they will give retail space to Symphony winners.” Product entries are due to AFDF by Oct. 15. D.C. does salmon In what’s got to rank near the top for savvy promotions, Bristol Bay sockeye salmon will be featured for a week this month at nearly 30 restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Wegman’s locations in Maryland and Virginia. “Really they signed up very quickly. All we had to do was tell people we have this massive wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay Alaska, the largest in the world, and we want to create a special event around that to connect people to the place that it comes from and the people,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The group, funded and operated by fishermen, was able to build “Salmon Week” based on chef and retail relationships it has cemented in recent years, and through its use of slick promotions in stores and on social media. The brand building outreach is bankrolled by a 1 percent tax on the catches of Bristol Bay’s nearly 1,600 drift gillnetters, which they’ve paid since 2007. For 2018, Wink said that added up to $3 million; the RSDA can use the money in any way it chooses. From the get-go the RSDA invested in chilling systems and infrastructure to boost overall fish quality. Processors rewarded chilling with bonuses that this year could pay fishermen $1.65 per pound or far more. Wink said chilling has been the group’s best return on investment. “From an ROI (return on investment) perspective you know that chilled fish are getting bonuses of usually 20 cents or better and it often unlocks bonuses which are far in excess of that,” he said. “These are really high returning projects for us. Last year when we added it all up, the amount of chilled fish we produced by RSDA investments almost paid for all of the funding that we would normally get through the assessment.” Why should Alaskans elsewhere care about salmon catches and quality at Bristol Bay? “In the context of the Alaska salmon industry, Bristol Bay is really a market moving fishery. In 2018 it was about half of Alaska’s total salmon value,” Wink said, adding that all but three Alaska regions are home to residents who “fish the Bay.” “I think the only borough and census areas that don’t have a Bristol Bay permit holder are Nome, Skagway and Yakutat. Every other place has some residents who own a commercial fishing permit at Bristol Bay,” Wink said. “You’d be hard pressed to find any other fishery that has that type of scale and scope to it. What happens in Bristol Bay affects the entire state in a lot of different ways.” Bristol Bay Salmon Week is set for Sept. 16-20. www.bristolbaysalmonweek.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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