Fisheries

‘Bleeding out’: Inlet setnetters feel pain of early closure as sockeye continue pouring in

Editor’s note: This story is the first of a three-part series about the Cook Inlet commercial fishery. Every few seconds, a bright salmon throws itself out of the water on the beaches of Cook Inlet and splashes back. Normally, that would be a sight to celebrate for the hundreds of commercial fishing sites up and down the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, but not this year. “I can’t even go to the bluff,” said Ted Crookston, who setnets on the Salamatof beach just north of the mouth of the Kenai River. Looking at the fish flopping in the water, unharvested, is too painful, he says. All the sockeye headed up the river past where setnets are usually harvesting them translates to thousands of dollars not going into a commercial fishery that has been bleeding out economically for more than a decade. He says he’s been fishing the beach for nearly six decades. This season is the earliest closure he remembers, with the last day of fishing on July 20. Since then, the East Side setnetters from Boulder Point north of Nikiski down to Ninilchik have been sitting on the beach, with many giving up and pulling their gear out for the season. The Salamatof fishermen say they had five openers in their whole season. It all hinges on king salmon, which aren’t coming back to the Kenai River in enough numbers. For the past three years, the late run of Kenai River king salmon has been too small to meet the lower end of its escapement goal, which means Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists place restrictions on both the in-river sportfishery and the East Side setnets, also known as the ESSN, which operate close to shore. This management structure is known as paired restrictions, which scale back setnetters’ time and gear as the sportfishery’s gear is restricted. The Board of Fisheries said the structure was justified because the setnet fishery harvests more kings than the drift fishery, tying it to the sportfishery if in-river fishermen are restricted. The problem is that many setnetters say they have tools available to harvest sockeye without taking kings, and ADFG isn’t using them. The 600-foot fishery On July 20, East Side setnetters fished their last day for the season, restricted to the 600-foot fishery from Boulder Point to Ninilchik. In the 12 hours that day, they harvested 36,668 sockeye and 72 kings. According to ADFG estimates, 11 of those kings were large late-run Kenai River kings. Chris Every, a north K-Beach setnetter, said the fishermen in his area have been pushing for the 600-foot nets as a tool to allow the fishery to remain open when the king salmon run is low for years. “We have data from the last four years with the 600-foot fishery,” he said. “It’s been fished between the rivers, and it continually shows the data that we’re trying to prove.” He submitted a petition to the Board of Fisheries asking for ADFG to be allowed to reopen the setnetters to just the 600-foot fishery this summer, letting them continue to fish in a restricted manner while the in-river king salmon fishery is closed. The board rejected his petition 4-2, saying that the situation doesn’t qualify as an unforeseen emergency. ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang wrote in his finding that this year is not an emergency because it has happened before and the board specifically made the regulation that provided for it. “Closure of the ESSN fishery has occurred in the past and is also not an unforeseen event,” he wrote. Several board members said they felt as though they hadn’t fully understood the implications of the regulations they made nor had the data on the small king harvest from the 600-foot fishery. The board ultimately voted down Every’s petition 4-2 and took no action on the other, a petition from the South K-Beach Independent Fishermen’s association, an ad-hoc advocacy group. Paul Shadura II, who submitted the petition on behalf of SOKI, said he felt slighted that that board didn’t discuss the petition, which differed in specifics from Every’s request. He said the group is interested in putting in an agenda change request, or ACR, this fall to the board related to this issue, but that doesn’t help the situation with all those sockeye headed up the Kasilof River now, which the fishermen think will end up damaging the sustainability of the run long-term. “(It’s hard) to watch hundreds of thousands of potential dollars go into the system that do nothing for the future,” he said. “The annihilation of the East Side setnet fishery takes out another component that’s been here since at least the 1940s.” The data Every contends that the commissioner’s decision does not take the new data into account. ADFG opened the 600-foot fishery five times this season, though the four previous openings were in the Kasilof and North K-Beach areas. Each time, the harvest of large Kenai River late-run kings was less than 10 fish. With that data in hand, the advocates argue, the tradeoff of kings for sockeye is a fair one. The other user groups are able to be in the water, while the setnetters lose all their opportunity. “I never want to be sitting here when the dippers are dipping, the flossers are flossing, and the drifters are drifting,” Every said. “We are a group of people that is being bankrupted.” Some of the setnetters also argue that the king goal is unreachably high. Andy Hall, a Kasilof-area setnetter and the president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said watching the goal increase while watching the setnetters’ fishing time be cut to achieve an escalating goal is frustrating. “The paired restrictions are not equitable,” he said. “The concept of managing a sockeye fishery based on its absurdly low exploitation rate on a struggling king stock that has had the highest escapement goal in 25 years placed upon it is profoundly flawed. The only comparable paired restriction would be if all (personal use) and sport fisheries on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers were closed when a single targeted fishery was closed. I am not endorsing that by any means. It would be ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as the way the ESSN is managed.” During the Board of Fisheries meeting, Vincent-Lang said the data presented by the setnetters about the 600-foot fishery’s impact might be one instance, but may not accurately capture the exploitation rate on kings if it were prosecuted for more days and when more kings were in the water. During the meeting, no members of the Division of Commercial Fisheries were identified as being able to answer questions for board members; Forrest Bowers, assistant director of the division, said that was because he was traveling. Other staff were monitoring the meeting and able to answer questions, he said. Ben Mohr, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, agreed; the setnets may have a lower catch rate on kings when there are fewer kings moving through the water, but it may go up when there are more kings moving through the area. While the 600-foot fishery may have merit and he said he understands the pain the setnetters are going through, the middle of the season may not be the best time to make decisions about management strategies. “I think it’s really important that all sectors come together to talk about what we can do to come up with more selective harvest techniques,” he said. “I don’t think in the middle of the season is the time to do that. I don’t think in the middle of the season is the time to immediately call for experimentation.” The other side of the coin about the king goal is the coast-wide trend of king salmon declines. This year, several other large king salmon producing systems— the Yukon, the Nushagak, and the Copper rivers — all struggled to meet their king salmon escapements as well. Mohr noted that all three of those rivers have very little development along them, and they seem to be having the same trouble as the Kenai; that points to a problem in the kings’ ocean life component. Setting the king salmon goal higher can help provide differential levels of escapement in such a heavily used fishery, too, he said. If the goal is moved lower and lower, then the criticism might be that managers are just chasing a failing run down to make it look like they are meeting their goals. The closure costs the in-river guides as well; while some can rebook trips, king fishing trips are the most lucrative. The guides, and many in-river anglers, have gone to catch-and-release all the time for kings as a personal move to conserve the fish, too. “I don’t think anybody would want to be accused of catching the last king,” Mohr said. The future East Side setnetters, like most fishing user groups, aren’t a monolith. They vary in opinion from district to district, and sometimes even site to site. The Salamatof fishermen’s opinions about what should be done may come into conflict with the K-beach fishermen, and so on. One thing they all seem to agree on, though, is that this can’t go on without bleeding them dry. Crookston said the early closure has cost his site “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” “It is just horrible, what is going on,” he said. “There is tens of millions of dollars being squandered. To have opened the fishery would have been nothing. Everybody would have plenty of fish… there is no downside, only upside, and (Doug Vincent-Lang’s) true colors came out. We present you with a tool you say you want: harvest reds without harvesting kings.” Sarah Frostad-Hudkins’ family has been fishing the Salamatof Beach since the 1920s, when her grandfather Ole Frostad arrived there. In the past, the fishing has stretched from late May into September, or as her husband Jason Hudkins said, “until the nets froze.” Over the years, the season has been trimmed back into about six weeks. This season, their crew pulled their nets and stored their skiffs on the hill above the site just as July faded into August, after five openers total. “I feel like grieving is a good word (to describe the season),” she said. “We always grieve the end of the summer … this one is just earlier.” The next part in this series will cover the economic aspects of the closure of the Kenai River king salmon sportfishery, the East Side setnet fishery and the proposed buyback program for permits in the east side setnet fishery. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Pinks peaking, but chum runs mostly dismal around state

Alaska’s salmon landings have passed the season’s midpoint and by Aug. 7 the statewide catch had topped 116 million fish. State managers are calling for a projected total 2021 harvest of 190 million salmon, a 61 percent increase versus 2020. Most of the salmon being caught now are pinks with Prince William Sound topping 35 million humpies, well better than the projection of 25 million. Pink salmon catches at Kodiak remained sluggish at just more than 3 million so far out of a forecast calling for more than 22 million. Southeast was seeing a slight uptick with pink catches nearing 14 million out of a projected 28 million. The pink salmon harvest usually peaks in mid-August and the statewide catch was more than 57 million out of a projected 124 million humpies for the season. For chum salmon the harvest remains bleak with Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula the only regions tracking well for catches. The statewide catch had barely topped 6 million out of a projected 15.3 million fish. The coho peak is typically in early September and harvests are climbing steadily, but at a pace less than half the five-year average. Just less than 700,000 cohos had crossed the Alaska docks, or about 14 percent of the projected catch of 3.8 million silver salmon. Alaska sockeye salmon catches of nearly 52 million so far have blown past the forecasted 46.6 million. More than 40 million are from Bristol Bay and more than 6 million from the Alaska Peninsula. The statewide chinook harvest had reached 173,000, or 64 percent of an expected 269,000 kings. Salmon slump No Alaska region has been hit harder by dismal salmon returns this summer than communities on the Yukon River, where the summer chum run of just 153,000 is the lowest on record. “This is really quite scary for everyone. These runs are low enough that no one on the river is subsistence fishing, and so it’s very dismal. Everybody in the communities on the full river drainage, are feeling the hardship,” Serena Fitka, director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, told KYUK in Bethel. Nearly 10,000 pounds of chum and king salmon have been donated by Bristol Bay fishermen and processors with logistical assists by SeaShare and Kwik’pak Fisheries in Emmonak to send salmon to 11 villages. Kwik’pak, typically a top employer each summer, has been able to put only a handful of people to work for a few days helping with the distribution said General Manager Jack Schultheis. Gov. Mike Dunleavy also directed an additional $75,000 to purchase more salmon from Alaska processors for donations. The Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Association of Village Council Presidents are helping with distribution. More fish action As always, lots of other fisheries are going on across Alaska besides salmon. At Southeast, about 160 crabbers will wrap up a two-month Dungeness crab fishery on Aug. 15. State managers expect the catch to top 2.25 million pounds with another opener set for Oct. 1. A sablefish fishery opens in Northern districts on Aug. 15 for 73 shareholders with a catch of 1.13 million pounds. The Panhandle’s spot shrimp fishery remains open in some regions through Aug. 30 with a 400,000-pound harvest limit. At Prince William Sound, a sablefish fishery is ongoing through Aug. 30 with a 208,000-pound catch limit. Likewise, a lingcod fishery continues through year’s end with a 32,600-pound harvest. It’s been slow going for Prince William Sound’s shrimp fishery that opened in April and has been extended to Sept. 15. That catch limit is 70,000 pounds. Pot hauls for Kodiak’s Dungeness crab fishery were nearing 962,000 pounds by a fleet of 19 boats. Crabbers are dropping pots for nearly 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutian Islands. Alaska’s halibut landings are slightly ahead of last year at this time with nearly 9.9 million pounds crossing the docks by Aug. 7. That’s 53 percent of the roughly 19 million-pound catch limit. Halibut prices usually tank during the summer but that’s not the case this year and fishermen are fetching near or more than $6 per pound at most ports. Payouts at Homer were $7.25, $7.65 and $7.85 depending on halibut size, with Seward buyers paying a nickel less. Sablefish catches had topped 19 million pounds, or 44 percent, of the 43.4 million-pound quota. Homer also was paying the most for black cod with prices ranging from $1.10 for under two pounders to $6.25 for 7-ups with Sitka not far behind, according to the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Fishing for scallops continued in regions from Yakutat to the Bering Sea where 345,000 pounds of shucked meats (the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed) could be harvested this season. Fishing continued for cod, flatfish, pollock and more in the Bering Sea. Pollock fishing will reopen for Gulf of Alaska trawlers on Sept. 1. Mariculture means money Ninety new founding members responded to the call to help shape the new Alaska Mariculture Alliance, a private non-profit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Walker. Their goal is to create a sustainable industry for growing shellfish and seaweeds to benefit Alaska’s economy and communities. The group represents a diverse range of experienced growers to newcomers, said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and is doing the same for the AMA. It also includes reps from Alaska Native corporations, salmon hatcheries, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the Aleutian Pribilofs Community Development Association. Along with boosting shellfish and seaweed farming, a priority will be getting the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill to allow for more large-scale shellfish enhancement that models the state’s successful salmon hatchery programs. “There’s been some efforts looking at restoring and enhancing king crab, geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and razor clams but they’re mostly at an experimental level. And they’re not allowed to do larger scale projects until a regulatory framework is put into place,” Decker explained. “We’re very close to getting the bill passed and we’re hoping that it will be one of the first bills taken back up and moved along over the finish line in the next session. Sen. (Gary) Stevens of Kodiak and Rep. (Dan) Ortiz of Ketchikan have been very helpful with that.” Policy makers are starting to talk more about the positive potential for Alaska mariculture, Decker said, and she believes “we have turned a corner” as proven by several new state and federal hires. NOAA Fisheries has hired Alicia Bishop as its first ever Aquaculture Coordinator for the Alaska Region along with Jordan Hollarsmith as research lead, both based in Juneau. And the University of Alaska/Fairbanks has hired seaweed research specialist Schery Amanzor as a professor at its College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to provide even more expertise. The state also has added two positions to the Department of Natural Resources to review new mariculture lease applications to reduce the backlog. “They have now gone from an average review process of 572 days down to 274 days,” Decker said. There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska, plus 35 pending new applications that add up to over 1631.32 underwater acres. Only 28 growers are making sales so far. The ultimate goal of the AMA is to facilitate a $100 million mariculture industry by 2038 and many believe that’s very conservative due to increasing demand, especially for seaweeds. The North American market for commercial seaweed will exceed $9.5 billion by 2026 due to rising commercial seaweed consumption and demands in the pharmaceutical industry, while global revenue is projected to top $85 billion, predicts Global Market Insights Inc. Check out the new Alaska Mariculture Map launched in partnership with the Alaska Ocean Observing System, Axiom Data Science, APICDA Corp., The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Alaska Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy/Alaska. Fish boosters The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is seeking members for its advisory committees to help develop global strategies for the Alaska seafood brand. Committees include Salmon, Halibut-Sablefish, Whitefish, and Shellfish, International Marketing, Domestic Marketing, Communications, Customer Advisory Panel and Seafood Technical. Deadline to apply is Sept. 24. Questions? Contact [email protected]/ Aug. 13 is the deadline to nominate small- and medium-sized seafood businesses to help shape a new National Seafood Council. Six to 8 seafood companies whose annual revenues are less than $20 million will be selected for cash scholarships based on their incomes. Apply at seafoodnutrition.org/ The call is still out for candidates for the state Board of Fisheries. The vacancy stems from the Alaska Legislature’s rejection on May 13 of Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Mine. According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days. Deputy Director of Communications Jeff Turner wrote in an email that, “The Governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection” and that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board of Fisheries denies setnetters’ emergency petitions

Kenai Peninsula setnetters are likely to remain closed for the rest of the season after the Board of Fisheries denied two emergency petitions seeking a partial reopening. In an emergency meeting held Aug. 2, the Board of Fisheries voted 4-2 to deny a petition seeking a limited reopening of the East Side setnet fishery in Upper Cook Inlet. The petitioner, Chris Every, asked the board to reopen the East Side setnets within 600 feet of mean high tide, known as the 600-foot fishery. “We believe by utilizing the 600-foot fishery we can reduce both the economic and biological impact while conserving chinook salmon, which is our ultimate goal with this 600-foot fishery,” he wrote in the petition. The setnetters had a foreshortened and significantly restricted season because of low late-run king salmon returns to the Kenai River. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that 6,420 large kings have passed the sonar on the Kenai River since July 1, significantly less than the lower end of the escapement goal of 15,000 large kings. In response, the department placed progressively stronger restrictions on the sportfishery, going from no bait to catch-and-release, and finally to a complete closure. Because of the paired-restriction model the Board of Fisheries placed on the East Side setnetters, when the king salmon sportfishery is completely closed, they are too. Setnetters have not been in the water since July 20, and they have watched the peak weeks of the Kenai River sockeye run swim past. Aug. 2 saw the highest daily passage to date: 151,525 sockeye passed the sonar, according to ADFG. Every cited harvest data from ADFG showing that when the entire East Side was open to the 600-foot nets only on July 20, only 11 late-run large Kenai River king salmon were harvested. “We believe that the amount of kings that are impacted by the east set-net 600 foot fishery is equal to or less than the other user groups,” he wrote. “The total chinook harvest in each one of the 600-foot openers is very low.” Board of Fisheries member Gerad Godfrey, one of the members who called for the emergency meeting after hearing from stakeholders, said those numbers were what convinced him the situation is an emergency. “I may not have caught all this in public comment or deliberations,” he said. “That was obviously a very intense meeting with a lot of data.” Board policy makes it hard to qualify something as an emergency. It must be an unforeseen effect of regulations, an immediate threat to the stock or include new information that the board or department did not have on hand when making regulations. The setnetters argue that the harvest data on large kings qualifies as new information, quantifying their exact impact on the run. ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang issued a response to the petitions over the weekend, just before the board meeting took place, finding that the situation didn’t qualify as an emergency because it was not unforeseen nor new information. During the meeting, he said the board instructed the department to prioritize meeting the lower end of the late-run king salmon escapement goal over keeping the sockeye run within its escapement goal range. The data from the 600-foot fishery on July 20 does show a small number of large Kenai River kings harvested compared to the approximately 36,000 sockeye harvested on the same day in the East Side setnet fishery, according to ADFG data. Vincent-Lang said that one day’s data may not be demonstrative of the effect of a 600-foot fishery long-term. “That 11 (king salmon) harvest is indicative of that day of fishing, but it may not be indicative of what you can expect in the harvest in the 600-foot fishery that is prosecuted in the area depending upon when king salmon are passing and how big of a run you have going by that site,” he said. Godfrey called the king harvest “de minimis” and said he felt he didn’t think he foresaw the full effect of the board’s actions on the setnet fishery while other fisheries remained open. Member John Wood agreed, saying he would like to see a temporary fix to allow the fishermen to harvest some of the sockeye run, but let the action expire after 120 days and consider permanent fixes in the future. However, the other board members did not agree. Member John Jensen said he thought the situation was serious in allowing that many fish to go by, but agreed with Vincent-Lang’s finding. Member Israel Payton said he agreed as well and cautioned against risking king runs for the sake of harvesting sockeye. “We don’t want to miss a goal more than three, four years in a row, because then it goes into stock of concern, and then we really have to take drastic measures,” Payton said. “My philosophy hasn’t changed that yes, my comfort level is more toward making a goal than exceeding a goal.” The board voted 4-2 to deny the emergency petition. There was a second petition from Paul Shadura II, a south Kalifornsky Beach-area setnetter, asking for openings in the Kasilof section, in the 600-foot fishery, and in the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area. The board voted to take no action on the petition without any further specific discussion. Shadura, who submitted the petition on behalf of the ad-hoc group the South K-Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association, said he felt “slighted” that the board had not taken up the Kasilof petition. He said he felt the board didn’t discuss any of the serious underlying issues in the situation, including overescapement of sockeye into both impacting the future of the runs and the increased amount of large king salmon in the Kenai being unattainable. “There’s a lot of discussion among folks,” he said. “We really have our doubts about the credibility of the escapement number. The target range for the kings in the Kenai River may at this current level exceed what was historically available in the first place.” Shadura has been participating in the Board of Fisheries process for years and commented in the 2017 meeting, when the Kenai River king salmon goals were converted from all fish to large fish only, that it would result in more closures of the setnet fishery. He said this result is not surprising to him, though the results are devastating to the local economy. Most Kenai Peninsula setnetters live in Alaska. “And to the processing industry, who’s really, from COVID … trying to survive in this situation with a reduction in harvest capacity,” he said. “All those fish that go up to the river are potential processing dollars that help the local community in multiple ways, and the national economy. It’s very, very shortsighted and the management system is not doing anything for the repair of our COVID economy.” The setnetters can submit an agenda change request, or ACR, ahead of the board’s October work session to be included in the upcoming cycle of regular meetings, with the hope that board members will accept any proposal under ACR requirements. Otherwise, they will have to wait until the Upper Cook Inlet cycle meeting, which is currently scheduled for 2024. The Upper Cook Inlet drift fleet is currently harvesting sockeye headed for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and so far has harvested about 668,269 sockeye. Across the area, commercial fishermen have harvested about 1.2 million salmon total. However, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association has also submitted an emergency petition to the Board of Fisheries, asking the board to suspend area restrictions during the first two weeks of August as well as the one percent rule. The petition states that the request is to help control escapement, which is increasingly coming in after Aug. 1, and the sockeye escapement goals in both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers have been achieved. ADFG is currently reviewing the petition. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Alaska crab shells displacing man-made chemicals

Most people are unaware that the yarns and fabrics that make up our carpets, clothing, car seats, mattresses, even mop heads, are coated with chemicals and metals such as copper, silver and aluminum that act as fire retardants, odor preventers, antifungals and anti-microbials. Now, crab shells from Alaska are providing the same safeguards in a bio-friendly way. The metals and chemicals are being replaced by all-natural Tidal-Tex liquid treatments derived from chitosan molecules found in the exoskeletons of crab shells. The bio-shift stems from a partnership between Leigh Fibers of South Carolina and Tidal Vision, the proprietary maker of the crab-based product that it began making in a 20-foot Conex van in Juneau six years ago. The company, which now operates near Seattle and has 22 full-time employees in three production facilities, expects to put up to 60 people to work within two years. In July, Tidal Vision opened its newest facility within Leigh Fibers’ headquarters, bringing its earth-friendly technology into the heart of the U.S. textile industry. Leigh Fibers is one of North America’s largest textile waste and byproduct reprocessing businesses that dates back to 1866 and now services 25 countries. “Partnering with Tidal Vision is a win-win for our company, our customers, and the environment,” said Eric Westgate, senior vice president. “Their Tidal-Tex product line delivers the key benefits that our customers look for in textiles at a lower price and is made from sustainable materials in the USA. At Leigh Fibers, we’re committed to advancing sustainable innovation and repurposing textiles for a cleaner, healthier planet.” “Having a partnership with Leigh Fibers was really strategically advantageous for us because they produce the fibers that then get turned into yarns that then get turned into all sorts of woven or non-woven textiles for everything from the automobile industry to the carpet industry to the acoustic sound insulation industry to the mop head industry to the furniture industry. They are at the top of the supply chain and treating those fibers was the easiest way to have the biggest impact in the textile industry,” said Tidal Vision CEO Craig Kasberg. Most of the raw product comes from snow crab and red king crab delivered to St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea where they are processed into frozen leg clusters. The shells are transported to the mainland where they are put through Tidal Vision’s zero waste, proprietary extraction process that produces chitosan in a flake form and is then made into the ready to use, liquid Tidal-Tex product. Kasberg said it provides the same fabric protections as the manmade agents at far less cost. “Our costs are minimal. They’re basically just tied to the logistics and some of the freezer storage costs but it’s nearly a free input material,” he said. All crustaceans have chitosan, a polysaccharide that is the second-most abundant organic compound in the world next to cellulose. Because of its unique molecular makeup, Kasberg calls it a “turnkey chemistry solution” to displace often toxic synthetic methods. “All these heavy metals need to be mined and refined, and then modified into these metal-based chemicals. Whereas we’re taking an abundant and even problematic byproduct from the seafood industry and with a really low cost extraction method, producing a biochemistry solution that can provide the same properties in these industries. Our inputs are tied to a byproduct,” Kasberg said. Tidal Vision has tested a lot of crustacean “inputs,” Kasberg said, but Alaska crab shells pack the best chitosan punch. “The starting molecular weight of the chitosan is higher,” he said. Tidal Vision hopes to build more partnerships and expand to other countries within the next few years. The company also features a line of other chitosan-based products including water clarifiers and a game animal spray that prevents spoilage and keeps insects away. “Our goal as a company is to create positive and systemic environmental impacts with our chitosan technologies,” Kasberg said. “We’re still on the ground floor of Tidal Vision’s potential today.” Seafood scholarships Scholarships are being offered to small- and medium-sized seafood businesses to help shape and launch a new National Seafood Council. Its mission is straightforward: to provide a unified voice for the industry to encourage Americans to eat more seafood. A task force was formed in April 2021 led by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership to get things underway. “Some of the tasks include designing the governance of the National Seafood Council and the makeup and responsibilities of the board members. We want to make sure that the task force is representative of size of companies, gender, geography around the U.S. and points all along the supply chain,” said Linda Cornish, SNP president. Nominations are wanted from 6 to 8 seafood-related companies whose annual revenue is less than $20 million. The scholarships, backed by the Walton Family Foundation, will be based on those revenues multiplied by 0.00025. A National Seafood Council was created in 1987 as part of a Fish and Seafood Promotion Act but fizzled after five years. In May 2021 a group of over 60 U.S. fishing companies, groups and medical professionals asked Congress to provide $25 million in seed money to revive the group to develop a national seafood marketing and education program. The seafood council would eventually become industry funded, similar to other food industries. “Seafood is probably one of the healthiest foods that people can eat and there’s just not enough funding to get that message out,” Cornish said. “The milk industry has about $300 million a year to market their product, pork about $70 million a year, avocados about $50 million. Seafood doesn’t have that. “So for us to tell our story to the consumers in a more cohesive and unified way, we need some help to get this council started, and provide that resource to have a marketing campaign to do the same as other food groups have.” Cornish said the idea has been well received in Congress. “Right now we’re looking for some champions in Congress to spearhead that request on this group’s behalf,” she added. “There’s a lot of priorities being discussed on Capitol Hill and we need to make sure that the needs of this National Seafood Council are heard by Congress.” Americans overwhelmingly turned to seafood during the COVID-19 pandemic and Cornish said the time is right to advance the health message. “We’re still fighting this COVID-19 pandemic and seafood supports immune health and also is great for brain development and heart health,” she said. “I think the industry is ready to work together in a more collaborative way to get this unified message out to the consumers. And I really think we have the right window of time to do so.” Eating seafood also tops the list in new U.S. dietary recommendations that Americans eat two servings per week, starting with kids at six months. Deadline to apply for a task force scholarship is Aug. 13. Find links at seafoodnutrition.org. Bristol Bay breaks it! The reds are still rolling in at Bristol Bay where a run topping 64 million has officially broken the record for all time sockeye returns since 1893. The previous record was set in 2018 at 62.9 million fish. “Large numbers can be hard to comprehend, so consider this,” wrote Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which is funded and operated by driftnet fishermen. “If lined up nose-to-tail, this year’s Bristol Bay sockeye run would stretch on for roughly 20,000 miles, enough to encircle all the Lower 48 states… twice!” It’s natural abundance on a truly epic scale, Wink added: “It’s important to highlight just how special the Bristol Bay salmon resource is. These records aren’t being set while overfishing. All escapement goals were met to propagate strong future runs. Despite all the bad news about environmental degradation and destruction, Bristol Bay is a shining example that healthy eco-systems can and still do still exist. It’s really an ecological treasure. We ask that state and federal government protect Bristol Bay salmon and the natural habitats that allow it to thrive.” Processors have increased the base price at Bristol Bay to $1.25 per pound. At an average fish weight of 4.5 pounds and a catch so far at nearly 39.5 million fish, back of the envelope calculations put the value of the sockeye haul to fishermen so far at more than $222 million. Bristol Bay sockeye currently represents 82 percen tof the statewide sockeye landings of nearly 49 million and 56 percent of all salmon harvested so far across Alaska (80.4 million). “The boats aren’t even dry yet and interest in Bristol Bay drift permits is beginning to trickle in. Permits are popping up for sale, with preliminary asking prices between $200,000 and $240,000,” said the Fish Ticket report by Alaska Boats &Permits in Homer. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

DNR keeps ‘quiet period’ with water rights revisions pending

Mum’s the word from Department of Natural Resources officials regarding their plan to fundamentally change the state’s water rights system. House Fisheries Committee chair Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said DNR representatives declined to attend a July 27 hearing on the agency’s proposed changes to in-stream flow reservations and other water regulations because she was told they are in a “quiet period” while they respond to public comments from the extended period that closed April 2. Tops among the changes first suggested by the Division of Mining, Land and Water in mid-January is adding new language to water reservation regulations stating that water reservation certificates currently issued to private parties would instead be held by DNR, which adjudicates water rights and reservation applications. Resource development advocates insist the change is needed so control of a public resource is kept within a public agency and to prevent opponents of a given project from attempting to impede development by chasing water rights. For their part, conservation groups insist the change would strip Alaskans of their rights to protect the fish — another public resource — in waters vulnerable to development. Alaska’s current system of water rights is generally viewed as one of the most open in the country; it allows anyone to apply for temporary water use authorizations as well as water reservation, or in-stream flow, rights to maintain sufficient stream flows for fish and other wildlife. Reviewing water reservation applications often takes DNR years in coordination with the departments of Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation, a situation Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for the Homer-based conservation group Cook Inletkeeper, said in the hearing is the result of traditionally pro-development state administrations prioritizing water rights, or use, authorizations over flow reservations to protect habitat. Currently, the Department of Fish and Game holds the vast majority of flow reservations; another handful is held by federal resource agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Nature Conservancy is one of the few private entities to hold water reservations. It secured four flow reservations near the Pebble deposit in 2017. DNR officials also said during the public comment period that they could not comment specifically on the proposed regulations. At the time, they cited a section from the Administrative Procedures Act that state’s agency officials proposing a regulatory action “shall make a good faith effort to answer, before the end of the comment period, a question that is relevant to the proposed action, if the question is received in writing or at least 10 days before the end of the public comment period.” The section of the APA goes on to state that common questions can be answered in a consolidated form on the Alaska Online Public Notice System. State officials have historically discussed proposed regulatory changes and officials in other agencies have as well during the Dunleavy administration. Water Section Chief Tom Barrett said more broadly that flow reservations are “significant” in that they can impact other water users in a January interview. He added that the state is not trying to withhold water rights for any one group, noting the DNR commissioner — who approves water reservations — currently has the discretion to discontinue them as well. According to such answers posted by Mining, Land and Water officials, the changes are meant to better distinguish water reservations from more traditional water right appropriations. “Traditional water right certificates are issued to persons for a specific beneficial use. Reservations of water are a reserved level or flow that is reserved for a specific public purpose, not the sole use or benefit of the applicant.” Barrett wrote via email to the Journal on July 27 that it’s unclear exactly when DNR leaders plan to finalize the water regulations but it probably won’t happen for several months. The proposed regulations are a continuation of an attempt by former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration to overhaul the water reservation structure, according to Shavelson. House Bill 77, which drew strong public opposition and died in the Senate in early 2014, would have limited water reservations to public agencies among many other revisions to state resource policies. While development advocates have long advocated for changes to Alaska’s water use regulations and statutes, one of the state’s largest pro-development lobbying groups is against the current regulations proposed by the Dunleavy administration because they don’t go far enough. Natural resources attorney Eric Fjelstad testified on behalf of the Resource Development Council for Alaska that the new proposed language also gives the in-stream flow reservation applicant legal standing to manage the reservation, even if DNR is technically the certificate holder. “We think (in-stream flow reservations) should be a limited tool held by DNR and state subdivisions,” Fjelstad said. The state’s multilayered process for permitting large development projects addresses the concerns of many who are concerned about the impacts of development on water bodies and fish, notably salmon and the place for instream flow reservations is in a more subtle situation, according to Fjelstad. He suggested several small water withdrawals along a stream or river is a more likely scenario to result in cumulative damage to the watershed and its inhabitants. “If you don’t have that large project permitting you can have water withdrawals that aren’t accounted for,” he said. RDC Executive Director Marleanna Hall wrote in official comments to DNR that giving legal standing to private parties potentially managing in-stream flow reservations “an even more powerful tool for those who oppose development from Alaska. This provision should be removed from the regulations.” Shavelson contended the insistence by RDC and other development advocates that private parties should not be able to hold in-stream flow reservations as a means for protecting fish habitat is inherently hypocritical because developers, and other private groups, can hold water rights and temporary water use authorizations to divert water out of a lake or stream. “A Canadian mining company could hold rights to take water out of a salmon stream but Alaskans couldn’t hold the reservation to keep water in the stream and that’s the crux of it,” Shavelson said. “The DNR proposal really takes a government knows best approach to water reservations.” He urged lawmakers to amend the Alaska Water Use Act to mandate DNR to apply a corresponding water reservation sufficient to preserve fish and wildlife populations — which varies in each water body — to counter each water withdrawal authorization. “This would be the Alaska Legislature looking at the Water Use Act and making some simple but common sense changes,” Shavelson said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Salmon fisheries turn to chums, pinks as sockeye runs wind down

While the sockeye fisheries in Southcentral and Western Alaska are tapering off after seasons of varying success, the chum fishery statewide is turning out to be pretty dismal. Statewide, chum harvest is actually ahead of 2020’s final catch, almost entirely because of landings in Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula. However, the total volume is still down; as of July 17, the harvest of about 4.4 million fish was about half of the typical volume at that time, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Across Southeast, through July 17, chum harvest was 35 percent less than what it was in 2020. The Southeast troll fishery is seeing both fewer fish and smaller ones in the chum fishery. As of July 23, the trollers had landed 6,900 chums, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, with an average weight of 6.4 pounds per fish, about 2.7 pounds less than the recent 5-year average and about 1.4 smaller than last year’s average weight. “Hatchery produced chum salmon runs throughout Southeast have been variable to date, but harvests have generally been below average as forecasted,” managers wrote in the weekly update July 23. The Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, which tracks in-season returns of its summer chum, is showing that the actual return is tracking better than the lower end of its forecast. Up until statistical week 28, the run was tracking less than the forecast, but moved up by week 29 to between the lower and mid-ranges of the forecast. Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, however, is reporting poor returns at its sites. “Returns of summer chum to NSRAA remote release sites through stat week 29 continues to be poor and all indications to date are that we will be at or well below the low range of our preseason summer chum forecast,” the association wrote in its update on July 19. In Prince William Sound, 2.4 million chums have been harvested as of July 25. Harvest is better than last year, which ended at about 1.2 million chums. Dan Lesh, a fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group, said chum salmon are marketed for both roe and fillets, with the U.S. being an important market for fillets while the roe is often consumed in Asia. Alaskans may think primarily of sockeye and kings in the salmon market, but chum and pink usually provide large amounts of product to serve the markets. “One way to think about it is just volume,” he said. “In certain markets you need a lot of volume, and pink and chum are where we have the volume. Pink and keta are both affordable ways to provide really high-quality protein to people who aren’t tracking salmon closely.” Salmon fisheries are beginning to turn toward pinks. Prince William Sound fishermen have so far landed 22.6 million of them, which are a mixture of hatchery stocks and wild stocks. It’s a surprise, given that these fish would have been born in 2019, when a drought and record-breaking temperatures seared Prince William Sound. “Wild stocks are returning stronger than anticipated given the uncertainty about spawning success from the 2019 parent year that was assumed to be negatively impacted by drought conditions,” managers wrote in the weekly update. The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation is forecasting about 6.6 million pinks to return to the Wally Noerenberg Hatchery this year. They are just starting to show up and are not yet in enough numbers to report, according to the hatchery organization. Cost recovery harvest began on July 26 at the Armin F. Koernig hatchery, which is expecting 5 million pinks to return, and planned to start on July 27 at the Cannery Creek hatchery, which is forecasting 6 million pinks to return. Pink season is still just getting going elsewhere. Southeast has harvested about 3 million total so far, while Kodiak has harvested about 1.2 million and the Alaska Peninsula has harvested about 4.5 million. The Alaska Peninsula is ahead of its recent-year averages, while Kodiak was reportedly slightly behind. Cook Inlet is starting to see some pink harvests mixed in among sockeye, but reds are still the main harvest. Last week saw the Upper Cook Inlet East Side setnetters closed entirely due to poor king salmon returns to the Kenai River, leaving the drift fleet and West Side setnetters as the only commercial harvesters in the upper Inlet. The Lower Cook Inlet fleet is primarily harvesting hatchery pink salmon bound for Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association’s two hatcheries on Kachemak Bay, and so far have landed about 139,000 pinks. Bristol Bay is mopping up the last of its sockeye harvests for the season, but all preseason estimates have shown that this season set a new record at just shy of 40 million sockeye harvested and a total estimated run of 64.2 million. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Adak stakeholders protest denial of proposed cod allocation

Stakeholders of an isolated Aleutians fish plant contend state appointees on the federal fisheries management board have ignored calls for help to keep more of the area’s large Pacific cod catch in Alaska despite a court order that shot down the first attempt to do so. Representatives from Aleut Corp., which owns the fish processing plant in Adak through a subsidiary, and Peter Pan Seafood Co., have said they need to be able to rely on a foundational allocation of cod from federal fisheries to reopen the currently shuttered plant. It’s believed a reliable allocation of roughly 5,000 metric tons of Pacific cod to the plants in Adak and Atka, where a plant is also currently closed, would provide a base volume of fish that would allow an operator to keep it open year-round with purchases in the state waters cod and other fisheries throughout the year. Doing so could provide the ultra-remote community of approximately 300 residents with nearly 200 jobs during peak activity and several dozen steady positions if the plant were operated year-round, they estimate. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council that oversees the largely Seattle-based trawl cod fishery is in the process of reforming those allocations amidst other regulatory changes. Of the 11 voting council members, six are appointed by Alaska’s governor, in theory giving the state bloc control over council decisions and the business interests as well; those with more personal ties to the former Naval base community are wondering why, as they put it, the administration is not supporting the interests of a rural Alaska community over the trawl industry. Peter Pan Executive Vice President Jon Hickman wrote in public comments submitted prior to the council’s mid-June meeting that the company supports a harvest split with up to 30 percent of the qualifying shares going to eligible processors, contending that it would create a competitive, but not exclusive, market for the cod. For Peter Pan, it would likely provide the market stability the company needs to make investments in value-added cod products at Adak, according to Hickman. Peter Pan’s message on the issue was backed by the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, which feels a dedicated shore-side allocation recognizes the investments made in the fishery and the changes that have occurred due to rationalization and other factors, according to testimony from PSPA President Chris Barrows. Excess floating processing capacity left over after the rationalization starting in the mid-2000s of crab and other Bering Sea fisheries was moved south to participate in the federal Aleutians cod fishery among others, which challenged the community of Adak after the first time the plant closed in 2009, according to Adak Community Development Corp. board member Dave Fraser. “All that excess capacity flowed out into the Aleutians and shortened the seasons,” Fraser said. That 5,000 metric-ton mark is what was set aside by the council in 2016 under what is known as Amendment 113 for shore-based plants from the area’s federal Pacific cod fishery for several years as a means to direct resources to the communities that would otherwise be sent to floating processors. It was the council’s response to mitigate the impacts of its prior actions in other Bering Sea fisheries on Adak and other Aleutian communities. Offloading at shore side facilities means the large catcher vessels must pay the 3 percent state fish landing tax and adds other expenses to their operation. So in turn, several Seattle-based trawl industry groups and vessel owner companies sued the council in late 2016 in an attempt to have Amendment 113 overturned. They argued in part that the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not give the council the authority to allocate harvest to shore-based processers and that the council did not provide a rational explanation for the regulatory change, thus violating the Administrative Procedures Act that is at the core of many federal regulatory disputes. D.C. Federal District Court Judge Timothy J. Kelly sided with the trawl coalition in a March 2019 order in which he concluded the harvest set-aside for a pair of plants — but practically just Adak — violated national standards under the MSA that prohibit the council from discriminating between residents of different states in allocation issues. Sen. Dan Sullivan subsequently attached a rider to the 2019 Coast Guard reauthorization bill that largely would have made Amendment 113 law and bypassed the council; however, Washington Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell gathered opposition sufficient to prevent Sullivan’s amendment from getting the requisite 60 votes on the Senate floor. According to data submitted by Peter Pan to the council prior to its recent June meeting, cod deliveries from the federal trawl catch to Adak in 2018 and 2019 when Amendment 113 was in effect accounted for 12 to 13 percent of the total Bering Sea and Aleutians trawl cod allocation. Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, one of the plaintiffs in the Amendment 113 suit, wrote to the council that the group believes the concept of allocating harvest shares to processors is meant to provide stability in the catcher-processor relationship and a new catch-share program should strengthen that relationship, not weaken it. United Catcher Boats supported a processor allocation range of 10 to 20 percent in June when the council was deliberating its preliminary preferred alternative on the matter, versus Peter Pan’s 30 percent request. “By narrowing the range the council will help the public focus its attention on a fair and reasonable allocation percentage at this time,” Paine wrote in reference to the national fisheries standard requirements. Peter Pan Business Development Manager Steve Minor said in testimony after the council selected a preliminary alternative that would allocate about 2,000 metric tons of cod per year to Adak that the company is suspending its work to restart the Adak plant as a result of the decision. “There are many problems associated with this (preliminary preferred alternative), but let me close by saying that by selecting this PPA, the council ignored the unanimous agreement between all of the major Adak stakeholders about the most reasonable option to restore Adak’s economy,” he said. According to a written statement from Peter Pan after the council’s preliminary Adak decision, which was approved 10-1 as part of a broader regulatory package, there is a significant amount of work that needs to be done to the plant before it can be operated consistently. “Adak’s economic future, its school and small businesses are all tied to the success of the seafood plant, and we hope that the council ultimately supports the Adak community and the harvesters that helped pioneer this remote fishery,” Peter Pan’s statement reads. Council members who responded to questions from the Journal said the council rejected the allocation proposal because it would have allowed the fish to be transferred to other communities, such as King Cove or Unalaska, where Peter Pan and others have active facilities, and required a cash payment to Adak instead of generating real economic activity in the community, which state officials wanted to preserve. Officials in the Governor’s Office and the Department of Fish and Game did not respond to questions and interview requests for this story. They also said the 5,000-ton “set aside” for one group is far too much considering the annual total allowable catch, or TAC, for Pacific cod is in steep decline. It would create a situation where one user is provided a fixed quantity of a resource, with the rest are subjected to the swings in abundance. Adak Community Development Corp.’s Fraser said he hopes the council can come up with a way to support Adak’s economy that will get broader buy-in from stakeholders before finalizing the allocations; the council’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11-16. If the plant remains closed, regardless of the reason, it’s likely the school will close, which would be another major blow to the community, he said. Adak’s economy shrunk rapidly after the first time the plant closed for two years starting in 2009, according to Fraser. “Each time that happens, that somebody opens and then closes the plant again you lose more and more people out of the community and the ability to maintain a small business in Adak is reduced,” he said. “It is literally a matter of life and death for the community to have access on a sustainable basis to the resources that are right on its doorstep.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet setnet, sport king fisheries closed; Bristol Bay breaks record

While Bristol Bay has broken its all time record for sockeye, Cook Inlet’s setnetters are already out of the water for the season because of low king salmon numbers. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order July 19 that closes the Kenai River king salmon sportfishery entirely, as well as the Kasilof River and Upper Cook Inlet saltwaters. The run has been disappointing so far, and looks likely to come in at around 10,000 large fish; that is far short of the lower end of the current optimal escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 large fish. “The 2021 king salmon late-run to the Kenai River is significantly below preseason expectations, without further restrictions the escapement goal for Kenai River late-run king salmon is not expected to be achieved,” said sportfish area management biologist Colton Lipka in the announcement from ADFG. The managers started the late run on July 1 with a fishery open to retention, but no bait allowed. Through the paired restrictions on setnetters, that meant they had only up to 48 hours per week to fish and limited gear: only two 29-mesh nets or one 45-mesh net per permit, compared to the three 45-mesh nets per permit they’re allowed to have without the paired restrictions. Then, last week, ADFG went to catch and release, which pulled setnetters back to no more than 24 hours per week. The move to close the river to king fishing closes the East Side setnets entirely. The drift gillnet fleet is still able to fish, as are the West Side setnets. As of July 15, setnets had harvested a total of 138 large late-run Kenai River king salmon, according to ADFG. For all sizes and stocks, east side setnets had harvested 955 king salmon. The paired restrictions have been a point of pain for East Side setnetters since 2014, when the Board of Fisheries enacted them with the stated goal of spreading the burden of king salmon conservation between the in-river and commercial fisheries. The Kenai River king salmon run has been struggling for more than a decade, and the paired restrictions have led to early shutdowns or significant restrictions for setnetters multiple times since 2014. Andy Hall, a Kasilof-area setnetter and president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said July 19 that setnetters had been expecting the decision but were disappointed. The paired restrictions fall disproportionately on them, he said, because in-river guides, dipnetters, and sportfishermen can continue to fish for other species, but setnetters are on the beach. “The paired restrictions are not fair,” Hall said. “They never have been. We’re going to be the only group in the Inlet that’s not fishing now; guides will be guiding, dipnetters will be dipnetting, drifters will be drifting, sportfishermen will be sportfishing, and we’re going to sit on the beach. And we took a fraction of the big kings taken this year.” Since the 2017 Board of Fisheries meeting, managers have only counted large kings—those 75 centimeters from mid-eye to tail fork or longer—toward the river’s escapement goal. The goal has also been increased numerically several times. In 2016, a department analysis recommended a sustainable escapement goal of 13,500 to 27,000 large late-run Kenai kings. The board members chose a higher goal, set as an optimal escapement goal, of 15,000 to 30,000 large fish. Hall said the setnetters have been watching the goal increase and shift to large kings-only as they lose more fishing time, and that the result has been to allow more sockeye into both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers than the sockeye escapement goals recommend. “The paired restrictions are not equitable. The concept of managing a sockeye fishery based on its absurdly low exploitation rate on a struggling king stock that has had the highest escapement goal in 25 years placed upon it is profoundly flawed,” he said. “The only comparable paired restriction would be if all (personal use) and sport fisheries on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers were closed when a single targeted fishery was closed. I am not endorsing that by any means. It would be ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as the way the ESSN (East Side setnet) is managed.” KPFA sent a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang on July 2, predicting that the department would find itself in this position of whether to shut down king salmon fishing, and thus setnets, by late July. The letter asks Vincent-Lang to consider the impact of shutting down the commercial fishery on the local economy and to evaluate whether it is worth “sacrificing some very small number of large kings to prevent yet another year of dramatic sockeye overescapement and the peninsula-wide financial impacts that foregone sockeye harvest leaves in its wake.” Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner, said Vincent-Lang did receive the letter and called KPFA to thank them for their input. “We are sympathetic to the economic impact of every decision we make, especially on a fully allocated resource like Cook Inlet fish,” Vincent-Lang said in a statement. “However, we are following the management plan agreed on by the Board of Fisheries on how to manage these mixed stock runs. Our primary mission is for sustained yield and we have projections that say we have no kings to spare.” So far, Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen have harvested a total of 649,715 salmon, 90 percent of which are sockeye. The pink salmon harvest has been increasing, and so far, they’ve harvested 28,036 of them. Bristol Bay booms On the other side of the Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay has tipped over the edge of its all-time record. Counts on Tuesday confirmed an estimated of 63.2 million sockeye, surpassing the 2018 bay-wide record of 62.95 million.The Nushagak District in particular has blown by forecast expectations, with a total run of 27.2 million sockeye and about 17.5 million sockeye harvested so far. It also boasted two record harvest days, with 1.7 million and 1.8 million fish each day. West Side area management biologist Tim Sands said the forecast was for about 12 million sockeye to be harvested from there. The escapement into the Nushagak District rivers is about 9.7 million total. Sands said there were hampering factors that prevented some extra harvest. “Certainly (escapement is) higher than we would need or like, but with all the tough weather we’ve had this year and the breaks early on for king conservation, we had a lot more fish going by,” he said. However, the banner harvest numbers may be slightly tempered by decreased fish size. ADFG samples have been showing that the average sockeye weight is down about three-quarters of a pound from historical averages, or about 4.5 pounds average this year. Stacy Vega, an ADFG biologist who runs the sampling program in Bristol Bay, said that may be in part because the average age of fish returning to the bay is declining. The fish may also be smaller because of the very large runs returning this year, increasing competition for resources. “When you have a lot more fish, they tend to be smaller, because there’s just less resources out there for them,” she said. The smaller weights may impact the ending-season value of the catch, despite record numbers. Dan Lesh, a fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group, said those smaller sizes result in smaller fillets, which in turn affect the market value. “When you try to translate to value, that bump of harvest gets watered down quite a lot,” he said. “I think reporting on the numbers of fish in Bristol Bay should be tempered by the size issues.” The decrease in size may not affect the fishermen too drastically, as they are paid by the pound at the dock. This year, base prices are also higher than they have been in recent years. Last week, OBI Seafoods announced a base price of $1.25 per pound, and Peter Pan matched it, up from its own preseason base price of $1.10 per pound. Lesh noted that the prices still down from their high points several years ago, but that the increase is good to see for fishermen. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet salmon catches lagging, limited by Kenai king run

Commercial salmon catches are still lagging in the Central part of the state, but the Western coasts are pulling the overall numbers up with some recordbreaking landings. As usual, Bristol Bay leads the state in volume of sockeye harvested, on track to exceed its preseason harvest forecast. As of July 10, more than 18.5 million sockeye had been harvested, with a total run of more than 48 million. The Nushagak District alone has seen an estimated return of more than 24 million salmon, far past its preseason forecast of about 15 million, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Escapement in the Nushagak District has exceeded 7 million fish,” ADFG managers wrote in their weekly summary July 9. “Counts on all rivers have surpassed the top ends of the respective escapement goal ranges and a new record is set on the Nushagak River every day.” Daily catches in the Nushagak District have come down, though, as the Naknek-Kvichak District have risen. The latter’s total run has topped 14 million sockeye, with a harvest of about 5.5 million between the Naknek, Kvichak and Alagnak rivers. Catches are also blowing past expectations in the Alaska Peninsula. So far, more than 3 million sockeye have been harvested, more than double the recent 10-year average of 1.2 million. The pink salmon harvest is beter than average, too, with 3.3 million fish harvested so far; the chum harvest so far of 862,150 fish is also nearly double its recent 10-year average of 461,515 fish. Kodiak is ahead of last year and better than the forecast, though its sockeye catch has been tracking with prior averages, according to ADFG. So far, about 997,000 sockeye have been landed. In Southcentral, the Copper River district’s sockeye harvest is beginning to transition to its mid-summer pink salmon season. As of July 9, 292,696 sockeye had been harvested in the district, and ADFG estimated that 99 percent of the commercial harvest timing is complete. That harvest is about a third of the 2021 forecast of 652,000 fish. Cook Inlet is lagging behind past years, though. So far, commercial fishermen have harvested 306,731 salmon of all species, about 96 percent of which are sockeye. The forecasted harvest is about 2.37 million, most of which would occur in the next month before the majority of the fishery closes in mid-August and effort drops off. The run is still picking up on the Kenai. As of July 12, the sonar had counted 119,537 sockeye. In the Kasilof River, the sonar had counted 206,969 sockeye, with pinks starting to arrive in the river. ADFG estimates that the run is about 39 percent complete, with a projected final escapement of 490,000 fish, far better than the upper end of the escapement goal. At this point, the managers are trying to control escapement into the river. Commercial area management biologist Brian Marston said the department is considering using the 600-foot fishery where setnetters can place nets within 600 feet of the mean high tide mark. The fishery is intended to be more targeted and catch sockeye bound for the Kasilof River, and provides an alternative to fishing the terminal harvest area around the mouth of the Kasilof. So far, the runs have been slow, but it’s still early in the Kenai run. Marston said the offshore test fishery in the southern inlet showed some higher numbers than expected recently. “The (offshore test fishery) is basically average for the last couple of days,” he said. “Our preseason estimate is not for average (run size), but the OTF is showing average.” However, the sockeye coming in is only part of the problem. The other part is the Kenai king run, which has been anemic. On July 12, ADFG announced that the Kenai River late-run king salmon sportfishery would go to catch and release only for the rest of the season. The department’s projections are for the late run to reach about 10,778 large fish, or significantly less than the lower end of the escapement goal, which is set at 15,000. “The 2021 king salmon late-run to the Kenai River is significantly underperforming preseason expectations,” said Area Management Biologist Colton Lipka in an emergency order issued July 12. “It is still early in the run, but indicators so far are predicting a weak return similar to 2019 and 2020. Without further restrictions to harvest, the goal for Kenai River late-run king salmon is not expected to be achieved.” That means the commercial fishery is limited, too, as part of the “paired restrictions” model meant to conserve harvest of Kenai king salmon. Setnetters in the Upper Subdistrict are limited to no more than 24 hours of fishing time per week, and types and amounts of gear are restricted. That limits the commercial division’s ability to control escapement through openings. The department will reevaluate as the run develops and make changes as necessary, according to the emergency order. The sportfishing community on the Kenai River had been calling for the department to enact more serious restrictions on the late run of kings. The early run was limited to catch-and-release only and did make the escapement goal, but the late run opened with retention but no bait. Several fishermen and guides put out social media posts and letters asking anglers not to keep kings and calling for the department to enact stronger restrictions. Among the calls was one from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association asking anglers to limit their harvest to fish smaller than 34 inches. Ben Mohr, KRSA’s executive director, said he thought the call was effective and echoed the feelings already moving in the sportfishery. “I think it’s been really well received,” he said. “We’ve heard from the professional guide community as well as some of the more traditional folks that encourage catch-and-release, and we’ve all been pretty much on the same page. All of us, within hours of one another, put out the same statement. None of us coordinated it.” KRSA did not call for catch-and-release, but for a middle step of limiting size retention to fish smaller than 34 inches. That would have allowed the setnetters 36 hours per week instead of 24. King runs are dismal all over the state, from the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers to the Copper. Few systems are able to sustain open sportfishing harvest, and even fewer are able to support commercial fisheries for kings. Many of those rivers have little sportfishing pressure or development around them, too. Mohr said that points to a larger oceanic issue in the lifecycle of kings as the issue. “Our emphasis is on anglers writ large,” he said. “I think everybody that’s involved in the fishery realizes how dire the situation is and realizes that it’s on all of us to take appropriate conservation measures.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: New app aims to track real time marine observations

Fishermen are the ears and eyes of the marine ecosystem as a changing climate throws our oceans off kilter. Now a new phone app is making sure their real life, real time observations are included in scientific data. The new Skipper Science smartphone app, released on June 18, comes from the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea as a way “to elevate the thousands of informal-yet-meaningful environmental observations by fishermen and others into hard numbers for Alaska’s science-based management,” said Lauren Divine, Director of Ecosystem Conservation for St. Paul’s Tribal government, whose team created and owns the dataset for the app. “How do we take what has historically been called anecdotal and create some structure around it that is rigorous and has scientific repeatability?” Divine said to KCAW in Sitka. “There is a vast body of deep knowledge that fishermen hold from their experience on the water, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, that they use for decision making and risk evaluation and to execute a likelihood on the water. And we have very much underutilized that knowledge for years, especially here in the North Pacific,” she added in a phone interview. The free app, which works on or off the internet, is an offshoot of an Indigenous Sentinels Network started 16 years ago at St. Paul Island to monitor wildlife and the environment in the Bering Sea. To broaden its reach, St. Paul partnered with advocacy group SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP. Through its surveys and other outreach SHIP quantifies what’s regarded by scientists as fishermen’s “informal observations” and shares the information with managers and decision makers. Troller Eric Jordan of Sitka, who has been out on the Southeast waters for 71 years, agrees the grounds truth should be in the database. “We have perspectives that go back decades as persons that are dependent on reading correctly what’s going on. We are tuned in to the utmost degree. We know which bird is feeding on what fish, the water temperature, the depth, the bottom structure, all those things,” he said about the SkipperScience community. “And we’re trying to project into the future quicker than almost anybody else. We know stuff that is helpful to everybody as they’re trying to understand the changes, because we’re not just there to understand, we’re there to adapt.” Call for fish board seat The call is out for nominees to fill one seat on the state Board of Fisheries. The opening stems from the Alaska Legislature on May 13 giving a thumbs down to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Limited Partnership. Nearly 1,000 Alaskans spoke out against Williams’ appointment. According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days. “The governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection,” Deputy Director of Communications Jeff Turner wrote in an email, adding that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.” United Fishermen of Alaska said that Dunleavy “is open to considering applicants from all across Alaska.” By March 2021, the board was scheduled to have finished up 275 proposals for Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish fisheries. But the normal meeting cycle was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in October of 2021 it will hold a two-day work session followed by meetings for those other regional fisheries in November through March of next year. Then in October 2022, the board will turn its attention to Bristol Bay and Chignik, the Bering Sea, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula regions. “The governor’s nominee will serve on the board in the interim until the legislature, in joint session, makes a decision,” said board director Glenn Haight. The board regulates commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in Alaska state waters, meaning out to three miles. Currently, only one of the seven board seats is held by a person from a coastal region: John Jensen of Petersburg. Alaska seafood love A new national survey revealed that 26 percent of U.S. consumers said they purchased seafood for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half plan to increase their intake and nearly 74 percent plan to continue cooking seafood at home. That’s according to a 2021 Power of Seafood report by Dataessential which tracks national market trends. The report was compiled for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Seafood saw unprecedented growth in grocery sales at nearly 30 percent at the height of the pandemic, far exceeding all other food categories. The top reasons? It’s healthier than red meat and people said they prefer the taste. Topping the seafood list of favorites was salmon and by a 5-to-1 margin, responders said they prefer wild over farmed. Having less harmful additives was a top reason they prefer wild-caught seafood. More than 60 percent said they want to know where their seafood comes from and that it is sustainably sourced. More than 70 percent of 1,000 responders said they are more likely to buy seafood when they see the Alaska logo, and they are willing to pay more for it. That holds true in Japan where another ASMI survey of 1,000 seafood eaters showed that nearly 80 percent said they were more inclined to buy products bearing the Alaska brand. The responders said their favorite things about Alaska seafood were (translated from Japanese) wild deliciousness (63 percent), great nature (49 percent), clean ocean (45 percent) and freshly frozen (44 percent). “We had to adjust our strategy and tactics in all of our markets which were hit hard by the pandemic and required new data to guide our efforts,” said ASMI Senior Director of Global Marketing and Strategy Hannah Lindoff. Fish gets gutted Meanwhile, in the ongoing state budget battle, Dunleavy vetoed $3 million in federal CARES funding for ASMI that he gushed over on June 25. “Alaska’s seafood industry is a strong pillar of our economy and my administration is committed to supporting ASMI’s urgent and substantial need following unplanned industry-wide COVID-19 costs,” Dunleavy said on his website. “No one does seafood like the Last Frontier with its world-class stocks of fresh, nutritious, and wild protein. Our fleets have weathered the storm of COVID, now it’s time to keep delivering a piece of Alaska on a dish around the globe,” the governor added. ASMI is a partnership between the state and the Alaskan seafood industry and is funded by a tax on processors and some federal dollars. It receives no state funding. The $3 million was part of a $50 million Alaska portion for seafood-related relief in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020 by Congress. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bristol Bay blows past harvest records

Bristol Bay fishermen are on track to blow past the preseason forecast for sockeye salmon yet again. Just before the Fourth of July weekend, fishermen in the Nushagak River district of Bristol Bay broke their daily harvest record two days in a row. On June 30 and July 1, fishermen in the district harvested 1.7 million and 1.8 million sockeye respectively. Daily harvests dropped back down in the Nushagak since, with a total of nearly 9.9 million sockeye harvested altogether. Bay-wide, the harvest reached nearly 15.8 million as of July 5, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Tim Sands, the commercial fisheries area management biologist for the west side of the Bay, said the run in the Nushagak is on track to come in greater than the forecast. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to be above average,” he said. “Me and my assistant are thinking over 20 (million fish). That would be the second-best run ever.” ADFG’s preseason forecast predicted a run of approximately 51 million sockeye bay-wide, with a commercial harvest of about 37 million. As of July 5, Fish and Game had counted the total run at about 25.8 million, around half of the total forecasted run. The Egegik and Naknek-Kvichak runs, on the east side, are around 4.6 million and 4.5 million respectively. Most of the catch on the east side so far has come out of the Egegik, though, with 3.6 million from there and 1.6 million from the Naknek-Kvichak as of July 5. Bristol Bay exvessel prices have started out relatively high as well. Peter Pan posted a season-opening price of $1.10 per pound. That’s significantly higher than the base price per pound paid in 2020, which was reported around 70 cents, though lower than the 2019 base price of $1.35. The pandemic reportedly increased demand for seafood nationally. Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association is trying to take advantage of the increased demand. Lilani Dunn, who oversees the retail marketing program for BBRSDA, said half of consumers are choosing seafood more often than last year. “Bristol Bay sockeye salmon is capturing this momentum as an opportunity to show home cooks how foolproof, healthy and delicious (seafood) is, and to feel comfortable making Bristol Bay sockeye salmon a part of their standard meal rotation going forward,” she said. Sands said the processors have been able to handle the volume of fish being harvested so far. One issue for the managers this year, though, has been the king runs. The Nushagak River has not met its king salmon escapement goal since 2018, and this year the run has been coming in slow. Sands said one of the challenges has been accurately counting kings that have gotten lost in the large numbers of sockeye moving up the river. “The kings represent less than 1 percent, 1 to 2 percent of the total fish going by,” he said. “It’s difficult to sort them out from the sockeye going by. We have other information that indicates that the king escapement is probably higher than the sonar count, but even with the sonar count with where it is, we think we could make our escapement goal.” King escapements coming up short aren’t unique to Bristol Bay this year. Cook Inlet is seeing its third year of lesser king salmon runs in the Kenai River, which in turn limits the commercial harvest in Upper Cook Inlet. The early run of king salmon on the Kenai inched its way into the escapement goal by June 30, with 4,131 kings. The managers restricted the sport fishery to catch-and-release only for the early run and began the late run after July 1 with no bait, which restricts the commercial setnet fishery to no more than 48 hours of fishing each week. The Kenai River sockeye sonar began counting on July 1 and has so far counted 32,337 sockeye. The Kasilof River is about a third of the way through its sockeye run, with a projected final escapement of about 485,000 fish, according to a commercial fishing announcement for Upper Cook Inlet issued July 5 that’s better than the upper end of the escapement goal. ADFG opened an extra fishing period for the setnets in the Kasilof section on July 6, saying the extra time would help control Kasilof sockeye escapement while minimizing Kenai king and sockeye harvest. King salmon farther north are doing fine, by contrast; the Deshka River run of king salmon hit 17,302 as of July 5, near the upper end of its escapement goal and significantly more than any year in the last five. The Little Susitna River king run is also within its escapement goal, with 2,474 fish having passed the sonar as of July 5, according to ADFG. Managing sockeye around weak king salmon runs also created some management puzzles in Prince William Sound. The Copper River king salmon run looks unlikely to make its goal this year, despite inside water closures. Commercial area management biologist Jeremy Botz, who manages Copper River finfish, said the continued years of king salmon shortages are having repercussions on managing for sockeye escapement. “I don’t know without having the fisheries evolve somehow … we’re going to continue to have one impact the other,” he said. King salmon runs are down all across the state. Copper River started the season with a long series of closures for sockeye, too, with delays on the fish making it past the ADFG sonar at Miles Lake. That sonar is far upriver from the mouth, though, and there is a significant delay on fish passage from the mouth of the Copper to being counted on the sonar. Now, the counts have come up, and the fleet is able to have regular periods on sockeye, Botz said. However, the sockeye harvest is lacking so far at about 222,601 sockeye. The forecasted season harvest of 652,000 sockeye is about 47 percent less than the recent 10-year average for the Copper River District. Cook Inlet is at about the same harvest level, with 218,056 salmon harvested so far, with about 96 percent sockeye. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

More of the same a good thing as Bristol Bay gets underway

Early indicators are pointing to yet another strong year in the massive Bristol Bay sockeye fishery, which is contrasted against the continued struggles in many of the state’s other large salmon fisheries. Just more than 3.2 million sockeye had been harvested through June 27, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game figures, with the Nushagak District accounting for more than half of the catch so far at nearly 1.7 million fish. The 3.2 million-fish harvest to-date this year is between the comparable totals for recent years; 1.2 million sockeye were harvested through June 27 last year, while more than 4.4 million were caught by the same day in 2019. With sockeye harvests of more than 40 million fish and total runs greater than 56 million sockeye, both of the last two years have been among the most productive in the history of the Bristol Bay fishery. Dillingham Area Management Biologist Tim Sands said early June 29 that he’s confident there are a lot of fish still making their way to the head of Bristol Bay based on catches in the Port Moller test fishery. He noted that returns to the Egegik River down the Alaska Peninsula have been particularly strong, with a harvest of more than 1.2 million fish and a total return estimated at more than 1.7 million sockeye through June 27, several-fold more than last year in each category. “We’re seeing a little bit of a lull here, which we’ve seen the past four years, and it’s supposed to blow (June 30) so I expect things will kick into high gear from then on,” Sands said. Strong winds blowing up the bay can help push surface-oriented sockeye towards the rivers and nets at the head of the bay. Sands also said he expects the Nushagak River return to exceed the department’s preseason forecast of nearly 5.8 million sockeye; the run forecast for the adjacent Wood River is nearly 8 million sockeye. The overall 2021 Bristol Bay sockeye forecast of just more than 51 million fish — while less than actual returns the past four years — would still be 45 percent greater than the long-term average for the bay, according to ADFG. Sockeye escapement in the Nushagak has already more than doubled the upper end of the department’s optimal escapement goal of 760,000 fish, with more than 1.6 million past the sonar through June 28. Escapement in the Wood River was more than 1 million sockeye as of June 28 as well. Sands said those large early escapement figures are primarily due to limited early-season commercial fishing time. “We were trying to protect our (Nushagak) kings and the only way to protect them is to not fish,” he said, latter adding, “We also had a lot of nets out of the water even though it was open,” due to several days of winds strong enough to make fishing impractical and unsafe. Through June 28 the Nushagak River sonar had enumerated just 20,649 kings, less than comparable run totals for the prior two years when the runs ultimately fell well short of the 55,000-fish lower end of the biological escapement goal. The Nushagak District king harvest was reported at 1,639 fish as of June 28, according to ADFG. Harvest restrictions have also been implemented in the upriver Nushagak king sport fishery. Until very recently the Nushagak was one of the few major king-producing river systems in the state to maintain strong returns. Sands said June 29 that managers will likely increase the frequency of fishing openers soon. He also encouraged fishermen to use nets with a smaller diameter mesh to help control escapement, as the 2021 edition of Bristol Bay are again trending smaller than long-term averages. Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, wrote via email that factors are starting to shape up favorably for Bristol Bay fishery participants. Market conditions are good for Bristol Bay sockeye as the season ramps up with high demand, particularly in the domestic retail sector and the early numbers of fish are so far supporting the preseason harvest forecast of 36 million sockeye, according to Wink. “Retail prices for sockeye are trending up, farmed salmon prices are way up, the dollar is weaker; all things considered market conditions for sockeye look even better than 2019 and 2019,” when final ex-vessel prices averaged $1.60 and $1.54 per pound, respectively, he wrote. Peter Pan Seafood Co. leaders announced in mid-June that they would commit to pay a base price of $1.10 per pound for Bristol Bay sockeye this year. According to ADFG data, the final ex-vessel price for Bristol Bay sockeye averaged 70 cents per pound in last year’s pandemic-suppressed market. Under new state-based ownership this year, the Peter Pan is quickly making it common practice to publicize its prices early in a fishery — the same was done in May for Copper River salmon — a departure from tradition in the industry intended to gain support from fishermen. As for the Copper River, fishing has been more consistent after another slow start and harvest totals so far this year have already exceeded the final numbers in what was a dismal 2020 but are still well below historical averages. Through June 28, just more than 195,000 sockeye and 6,721 kings had been harvested in the Copper River district over eight openers. In the Kodiak area, the sockeye harvest totaled 408,761 fish through June 26, according to ADFG figures, while sockeye escapement totals through June 27 at many of the region’s primary rivers were less than recent years. The total annual Kodiak sockeye harvest has averaged approximately 1.8 million fish over the past 10 years. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Crab prices explode along with rising demand

Crab has been one of the hottest commodities since the COVID-19 pandemic forced people in 2020 to buy and cook seafood at home, and demand is even higher this year. Crab is now perceived as being more affordable when compared to the cost to enjoy it at restaurants, said global seafood supplier Tradex, and prices continue to soar. That’s how it’s playing out for Dungeness crab at Kodiak and hopefully, at Southeast Alaska where the summer fishery got underway on June 15. Kodiak’s fishery opened on May 1 and 76,499 pounds have been landed so far by just eight boats, compared to 29 last year. The Kodiak price this season was reported as high as $4.25 per pound for the crab that weigh just more than two pounds on average. That compares to a 2020 price of $1.85 for a catch of nearly 3 million pounds, the highest in 30 years, with a fishery value of nearly $5.3 million. The pulls are skimpy though, averaging just two crab per pot. Kodiak’s Dungeness stocks are very cyclical and the fishery could be tapping out the tail end of a peak. Managers say this summer should tell the tale. Southeast’s summer Dungeness could see 190 or more permit holders on the grounds. Crabbers won’t know until June 29 how much they can pull up for the two-month fishery after managers assess catch and effort information. The fishery, which occurs primarily around Petersburg and Wrangell, will reopen again in October. Last season’s combined summer and fall fisheries produced nearly 6.7 million pounds at the Panhandle, just shy of the Dungeness record of 7.3 million pounds set in 2002 and more than double the 10-year average. Southeast crabbers averaged just $1.72 per pound last season, down by more than a dollar for a 2020 fishery value of $11.5 million. Elsewhere, California crabbers fetched record prices for their Dungeness crab in a fishery that saw low landings and a shortened season that ran from January 11 through early May. The fleet of 359 crabbers fetched a record $6.02 per pound for a catch of just 3.6 million pounds, down 10 million pounds from the previous year. The value of this year’s California fishery was $18.7 million, down from nearly $46 million in 2020. At Las Vegas, a major crab market for the hotel and casino industries, television station KTNV said that Dungeness and snow crab legs have gone up between 17 percent and 33 percent in the past three months, reported Undercurrent News. Alaska king crab legs have climbed 90 percent, said John Smolen, owner of the Crab Corner Maryland Seafood House in Las Vegas “We used to sell our Alaskan king crab legs for $34.99 a pound and we’re currently selling them for $59.99 a pound, which is still a very tight margin,” Smolen said, adding that he believes the rise is the result of the pandemic depleting wholesale inventories. “Until we can get our production way back up ahead of our usage and build up a reserve supply, I don’t see the prices changing anytime soon,” Smolen said. Crab market expert Les Hodges added that “in order to maintain their gains, retailers must compete with the rapid opening of the food service sector in addition to a strong international demand for a resource that is limited in supply. Prices have been driven to all-time highs with more increases coming in the future for crab.” Scallops are coming One of Alaska’s smallest and priciest fisheries gets underway on July 1: weathervane scallops. The fleet size is limited by federal licensing to 9 permits, but just two boats take part in the fishery that spans from Yakutat to the Bering Sea and can run through February. “It’s pretty specialized and it’s not something you can get into easily,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “It takes a fair bit of institutional knowledge and also specialized gear. Lots of people have some Tanner crab pots lying around in their back yards, but not many have a 15-foot New Bedford scallop dredge.” The scallop fishery also is very labor intensive as it includes catching and processing. “It takes a lot of manpower, with crews of 12 people that are shucking by hand. Every Alaska scallop you’ve ever seen was shucked by hand,” Nichols said. This year the two boats will compete for a slightly increased catch of 345,000 pounds of shucked meats, which are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed. Scallops are a wildly popular delicacy and can pay fishermen more than $10 per pound, depending on size and grade. Weathervane scallops are the largest in the world and it takes them about five years to reach a marketable shell size of about five inches. Some can measure 10 inches across! The boats drop big dredges comprising four-inch rings to keep out smaller sizes. They make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery is co-managed with the federal government and has 100 percent observer coverage. The total first wholesale revenue for Alaska scallops last season was estimated at nearly $2.36 million meaning an average crew share of $41,274. That pales in comparison to the Atlantic sea scallop fishery, the world’s largest and most valuable. In 2019, landings at ports in primarily Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey totaled over 60.6 million pounds of shucked meats valued at nearly $570 million. This year’s Atlantic harvest is projected to decrease to around 40 million pounds. Prices for the largest sizes (U10s and U12s, meaning the number of meats that make up one pound) topped $30 per pound at recent New Bedford auctions, according to National Fisherman. Salmon helps healthy hearts A global study concludes that there are some big differences between eating farmed salmon and wild, and the way it’s prepared really matters. The Journal of the American Medical Association pooled data from four international studies of nearly 200,000 people to make the connection between eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the risk of getting and dying from heart disease. For those with a bad heart, JAMA concluded that eating two to four, 4-ounce servings of salmon per week reduces the risk of dying by a whopping 36 percent. The researchers touted salmon as delivering some of the highest doses of omega-3’s along with protein, selenium, B12 and vitamin D. And they noted some big differences between farmed and wild salmon. A wild salmon fillet has 131 fewer calories and half the fat as the same amount of farmed fish. While farmed salmon can have slightly more omega-3s, they also have 20 percent more saturated fat. The JAMA study also referred to the wide use of antibiotics in most farmed fish growing operations, citing higher levels of “persistent organic pollutants” that are resistant to biodegrading. Levels of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, for example, are five to 10 times higher in farmed salmon than in wild fish. The adverse effects of PCBs were so widespread the chemical was banned in the U.S. in 1979, but most farmed fish comes into the U.S. from other countries that don’t have the same restrictions. How the fish is cooked also really matters. The JAMA study said a weekly diet of fried fish increases heart attack risk by 17 percent as it cancels out the healthy fat benefits of the fish. It’s more proof that you are what you eat. Seafood votes Weathervane scallops, king salmon, pollock and king crab are the four seafood favorites selected in a mock election that the state Division of Elections is using to give Alaskans a chance to practice the new ranked-choice voting method next year. Voters next November will get one ballot and rank several candidates for a given office by their preference; the top four will advance and the one getting the majority of votes will win. To test the new system from June 1 to 15, nearly 4,000 Alaskans voted from a selection of 18 seafood choices to determine the top four favorites. The winner will be chosen in the final seafood election on June 30. And just as in the national elections, the seafood election faced allegations of vote tampering. Read a great write up of the attempted seafood skewering by Liz Ruskin of Alaska Public media called “Nice try, pollock: How Alaska’s most prolific fish almost won the state’s ranked choice mock election.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Hope emerges ocean is improving after devastating ‘Blob’

Some are iridescent, shimmering blue as sapphires in the sea. Others have a space alien visage, rivaling anything Hollywood could come up with. Some sprout spines. Others glow at night with bioluminescence. Plankton — from the Greek word meaning drifter — are the base of the marine food chain. And for the first time since a devastating marine heat wave that peaked through 2014 and 2015, researchers see in the abundance, condition and diversity of plankton recently sampled off the West Coast signs of a change for the better in ocean conditions. While it’s early days for data that is still being analyzed, Jennifer Fisher, a plankton ecologist with Oregon State University, reported seeing an abundance of plankton associated with cold water upwelling, and good fat levels and size in zooplankton, the tiny animals that feed the food web. “We are seeing a high biomass of copepods and they also are big,” Fisher said by phone on a shore break during an ocean survey. Reddish slime in a plankton net: That was a thing of beauty to her. It’s Neocalanus spp., a type of copepod — a zooplankton — not seen during the ‘Blob,’ as the massive marine heat wave came to be called. “This is the first survey I have been on where I saw so many Neocalanus, the sieve is just bright red,” Fisher said. “That is them.” The research is part of a Northern California Current Ecosystem Survey that has been ongoing with multiple funding sources since 1996. Fisher was aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research vessel Bell M. Shimada, on a 12-day research cruise that began May 22. Researchers with multiple entities assigned to a range of projects were at sea, traveling from northern Washington to the Oregon-California border, and offshore to 200 nautical miles from Newport, Ore., and 150 nautical miles off Crescent City, Calif. They used an array of devices to sample everything from plankton collected throughout the upper 100 meters, or 328 feet, of water, and monitoring conditions such as temperature, oxygen levels, salinity and other variables to an ocean depth of 3,500 meters, or more than 11,000 feet. The team wasn’t looking for fish — but the tiny things that feed them, using nets to sample the biodiversity, size and nutrition levels of phytoplankton — tiny plants — and zooplankton — equally tiny animals — in the marine food web. A high resolution microscope in the ship’s lab revealed an unseen world all around us. “What I love about it, too, is you take a cup of water and look at it under a microscope, and you would be amazed at how much life there is,” Fisher said. There are strong correlations between this food web and salmon returns, and even seabirds such as marbled murrelets that travel 50 and more miles from their forest nests to feed at sea. The long-term ecosystem survey is invaluable for showing trends in ocean conditions. Those took a dramatic turn starting in the fall of 2013, as the Blob began building. Eventually the mass of warm water engulfed the entire West Coast, leaving animals nowhere to go to find better conditions. Millions of animals died of starvation, from seabirds to salmon to sea lions. The effects are still being felt, particularly in diminished salmon runs. Years of data recorded in the online ocean indicators webpage maintained by NOAA show near-historic poor ocean conditions in recent years. Salmon begin their life in fresh water but migrate to the ocean where they typically live from two to four years, and must gain all of their body size. The ocean food web is critical to baby salmon sizing up fast to get bigger than a bird’s beak or predator’s mouth. Off Newport, the first day out from the home port, Fisher reported good news for baby salmon. From her first dispatch: “The plankton nets inshore were pretty brown with phytoplankton, and goopy with a variety of gelatinous organisms. However, beneath all the ‘gunk’ a rich copepod community existed with lots of northern copepods. We collected quite a few adult krill at the shelf break, and offshore the water started to clear and was filled with Neocalanus — a copepod indicative of productive water. This copepod species has been observed during recent surveys, but was absent during the MHW (marine heat wave) years.” The water column was cold at just 8 degrees Celsius or 46 degrees Fahrenheit at depth, with no hypoxic water; all good news for sea life. “Long story short — all signs point toward a cool and productive ecosystem so far,” she reported. On May 26, offshore of Crescent City, Fisher reported calm seas and even a total lunar eclipse for the night crew, pulling nets of plankton that migrate to the top of the water column nightly. The team continued to find Neocalanus, and a good size range of krill, a tiny crustacean that feeds everything from salmon to humpbacks. The phytoplankton community near shore was dominated by thalassiosira — chains of golden diatoms, indicative of the upwelling water that feeds the web of life. Diatoms are autotrophs, meaning they make their own food from the energy of the sun, by the process of photosynthesis. These brown-green algae cells are encased in a silica shell giving diatoms a spangled, jewel-like appearance under the microscope. But their wealth is counted in nutrition: Diatoms are packed with fatty acids that move up the food web from one animal to the next. This is the primary production on which the salmon in an orca’s mouth depends. It all starts with the Northern California Current, the upwelling that brings cool, nutrient-rich bottom water refreshing the warm, nutrient-depleted waters at the surface. These upwelling nutrients and the long daylight hours fuel a burst of diatoms that stoke marine productivity. Another good sign: On May 31, Fisher reported marine mammals, mostly humpbacks, but also a pod of orcas and fin whales observed nearly continuously, and in high abundance, from the Columbia River to La Push. They go where the food is. With the samples from this most recent survey back at the lab in Newport, of course now even more work begins: analyzing some 150 plankton samples for nutrients, genetics, chlorophyll levels and more. With all that work ahead, it’s too soon to say for sure, but the signs are encouraging, Fisher said, in a region starved for good news about ocean conditions. “I feel like the ocean is productive so far this year; that is my hunch.”

Trustees, stakeholders differ on spending final Valdez funds

Nearly 30 years after ExxonMobil agreed to pay $900 million to help restore resources damaged by the company’s disastrous Prince William Sound oil spill, more money remains than was once expected, and naturally there are plenty of ideas as to what should be done with it. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, the entity responsible for allocating the civil settlement funds, approved structural changes to the traditional spending plan in January for the roughly $200 million left in the spill restoration accounts that many opposed to the changes have dubbed a “spend-down plan.” Specifically, the six EVOS trustees — three state-appointed and three federally-appointed — voted to shift the council’s previously annual public review and meetings to a five-year cycle. In October, the council is expected to review and vote on 10-year funding proposals. Shauna Hegna, president of the Kodiak-area Alaska Native regional corporation Koniag Inc., said in an interview the company has long been in the camp that there is significant value in creating an endowment for the remaining EVOS settlement money that could fund projects in perpetuity. “The trustees have vocalized that they want to spend down the money,” she said, adding such an objective might meet the immediate needs to restore much of the ecological damage caused by the spill but it is unlikely to adequately support the human services needed to help communities fully recover from the spill. Kodiak-area villages are, or at one point were, fishing communities that lost their primary economic driver after the spill and, according to Hegna, many now lack the resources to rejoin the industry as the ecosystem has recovered. “How do you position the next generation to enter that economy now that you’ve recovered the fish resource but the workforce has moved on?” Hegna questioned. “Just doing scientific research doesn’t heal an economy; you have to then invest in that economy.” She suggested investments in workforce training and programs to help would-be commercial fishermen enter the typically capital-intensive industry. Chugach Alaska Corp. Lands and Resources Vice President Josie Hickel said based on her research that less than 1 percent of the total EVOS settlement funds dispersed to-date have gone to Alaska Native communities in the Chugach and Koniag regions. Hickel emphasized that the scientific research funds regularly go to projects such as fish population monitoring managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the National Marine Fisheries Service it oversees. ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang and NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger both serve as appointed council trustees. “They’re just giving themselves money and I’m not saying those programs aren’t necessary or effective, but again, it goes back to this whole idea about process and it doesn’t seem to be open and transparent,” Hickel said. She and Hegna also said projects to help preserve cultural resources and activities not totally lost to the spill should also be a higher priority for the council. “Many of those (ecological) resources have recovered 30-plus years later but there are still impacts on our communities,” Hegna said. “The cultural resources that were damaged by the Exxon Valdez oil spill are irreplaceable. Our village economies were changed by the oil spill and that has led to outmigration from many villages in our region.” Vincent-Lang, through a department spokesman, referred questions to current council chair and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune. Tribes seek input Additionally, Chugach representatives have heard from Tribal leaders in their region that federal officials have not adequately consulted with them on potential council-supported projects in their communities, according to Hickel. “There certainly hasn’t been any meaningful consultation in the last five years that I’m aware of,” she said, though council members in recent conversations have indicated a desire to improve outreach to the region’s Tribes and villages. “We get the impression that they’re trying to shore things up, improve their processes and make things more open and transparent and understanding the need to work with Alaska Native communities and the people of the region but to this point it’s all been talk.” NOAA’s Balsiger, who has spent approximately 15 years on the council over two stints, said in an interview that he believes the council needs to improve its Tribal consultation and said the trustees have urged council staff to work with Tribal representatives on funding proposals that fit under the terms of the 1991 Consent Decree. “I understand to the Tribes, ‘we’re working on it’ is not a good answer but I hope they can be patient,” he said in regards to more Tribal involvement in the council. Balsiger added that he believes projects focused on restarting cultural activities lost after the spill, such as subsistence harvests, or preserving cultural artifacts, can fit under the settlement. “I think that if they’re properly put together there’s no problem finding them legitimate under the Consent Decree,” Balsiger said. Acting EVOS Trustee Council Executive Director Shiway Wang directed questions about the organization to the individual trustees. DEC’s Brune, who has chaired the last two EVOS council meetings, said the council’s latest invitation for proposals — those proposals are now being vetted by council staff — requires outreach to Alaska Native organizations in the communities where work is proposed and documentation of the consultation that occurs. At the first meeting he chaired in early 2020, Brune said he heard from representatives of several Tribes and village corporations that they were not made aware of the meeting and he has subsequently met with Chugach and Koniag officials countless times, adding he has encouraged staff to increase coordination with those groups as well. However, Brune also said “consultation does not mean funding,” explaining that he believes local groups should have the opportunity to fairly compete for funding but having it awarded should not be a forgone conclusion. “If their projects rank up favorably, absolutely,” he said of directing funding to proposals by Alaska Native organizations. As to the longer-term funding plans, Brune said they are essential to maximize the efficacy of the available funds while providing certainty to the practitioners of the years-long scientific research and habitat restoration projects the council has historically supported. “That predictability is incredibly important to scientists,” he said. Return on investment boosts balance Brune acknowledged that the council’s broad plan for scientific research calls for spending roughly $100 million over 10 years but also emphasized that the money will not all be allocated at once, meaning what remains will continue to generate investment returns, or it will at least as long as the Permanent Fund does. As of Jan. 31, the latest financial report available for the council, the EVOS research investment account held $108.8 million and the habitat account held another $88.3 million for total EVOS funds of $197.1 million, which Brune and Balsiger said is a lot more than initial estimates projected would be left. “Because of the investment success the monies have gone a lot further than anyone ever anticipated, both for science and habitat,” Brune said. While a very short period of time during which market returns have been exceptionally strong, the recent performance to the investment accounts has more than maintained the balances despite withdrawals. Through the first months of the 2021 fiscal year the research account, for example, grew by more than $5 million despite $7.6 million in withdrawals because $13.3 million in investment income was generated. It’s a similar story for the habitat account, which started the fiscal year at $82.9 million and has grown to $88.3 million even with $4.6 million in withdrawals for projects and administrative costs. Having the EVOS funds invested alongside Permanent Fund assets — as many other State of Alaska investments are — may not be an official EVOS endowment “but to me it runs pretty much like one,” Balsiger said. “The Permanent Fund is a good place to put your money.” To additional concerns about lifting the requirements for annual council meetings, Balsiger said fewer opportunities for the public to directly provide input to the trustees is not ideal, but added that he expects there will be enough issues to address that formal meetings will still be held pretty regularly. “Things come up so I would think we will continue to have more frequent meetings than every five years,” he said. Brune stressed that council staff will continue to monitor and require annual reporting for funded projects, also noting that the council held two meeting last year and is very likely to hold a second this year, which is beyond the prior requirements. “A meeting for a meeting’s sake is not often necessary but if there’s a funding decision that needs to be made, then absolutely, we should meet,” Brune said. Stakeholder alternatives In recent years, an informal group of EVOS stakeholders and generally involved individuals self-dubbed the EVOS Think Tank, which includes Hegna, Chugach board chair Sheri Buretta and former Alaska lieutenant governors Fran Ulmer and Mead Treadwell among others, has pressed the council to transfer the EVOS funds to the Alaska Community Foundation under a plan that would set aside $20 million endowments each for the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward and the Prince William Sound Science Center in Cordova, among other allocations. A white paper published by the EVOS Think Tank in February 2020 asserts that the administrative burden of transferring funds between multiple government agencies can consume upwards of 40 percent of the funding for some projects research and habitat projects and investing with the Alaska Community Foundation would be one way to lessen that overhead. Balsiger said he’s not convinced the nonprofit groups could manage the money more efficiently. There are also questions as to whether or not the council could legally hand over the $197.1 million even if it wanted to. According to the council, a legal opinion from Department of Justice attorneys states the federal laws establishing and guiding the council make such a fund transfer illegal. While some Think Tank members contend the DOJ memo posted to the council’s website is largely legalese that falls short of providing a true legal opinion, Brune insisted DOJ attorneys have kept a more detailed opinion provided to the trustees confidential despite his urging to make it public. Brune said he is in favor of an EVOS endowment in concept — if it were legal — because he believes the administrative burden could be lessened but not some of the specifics of the Think Tank proposal, which got an endorsement from the congressional delegation in 2018. “The money could be going directly to Gulf of Alaska ecosystem monitoring and other science,” Brune said, adding, “I wanted to see the Sea Life Center and the Prince William Sound Science Center endowed in perpetuity; talk about a great legacy following the spill.” Balsiger said new ideas could always come forward but at this point the Think Tank’s proposal is “a settled issue” among the trustees. Hegna said overall she is “cautiously optimistic” that the steps the council has taken to clarify the policies for distributing funds and the new requirements in the proposal process will result in more opportunities for local involvement and help empower communities in the Koniag and Chugach regions to compete for EVOS funding. “We’ve had 31 years to right the ship and we’re not quite there yet,” Hegna said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: New non-profit takes over for mariculture task force

Alaskans who are engaged in or interested in mariculture are invited to become founding members in a new group that will advance the growing industry across the state. The newly formed Alaska Mariculture Alliance is a private non-profit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Walker and re-authorized in 2018 by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The task force will sunset on June 30. “One of the priority recommendations was to create a long term entity that would coordinate and support development of a robust and sustainable mariculture industry to produce shellfish and aquatic plants for the long-term benefit of Alaska’s economy, environment and communities,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and will do so for the AMA. Decker clarified that Alaska mariculture encompasses farming of shellfish and aquatic plants and also includes enhancement and restoration projects. There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska that when combined with 35 pending new applications, comprise 1631.3 acres, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Some growers also are interested in sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and abalone. Twenty-eight growers are making sales so far, which in 2020 dropped to $1.08 million, down from $1.5 million, with Pacific oysters making up about 80 percent of the value. Sales of ribbon and sugar kelp doubled, topping 230,000 pounds valued at nearly $200,000, a nice jump from $60,000 in 2019. “Seaweed is a newer industry even for the U.S. so there’s still a lot to learn,” Decker said. “One of the big challenges is we really need people and companies to jump into seaweed processing. That’s the real bottleneck right now; for the number of people who are interested in farming we need more companies doing the processing.” Besides its wide usage in foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fertilizers and industrial products, seaweeds also benefit the planet, said Sam Rabung, director of ADFG’s Commercial Fisheries Division, who has more than 35 years of experience in mariculture. “We’re dealing with ocean acidification and one of the main things that drives seaweed or kelp growth is extracting carbon from the water. It can have what they call a halo effect with lower acidic levels in areas that have high levels of seaweed growth. That benefits everything,” he said. The newly forming Alliance has a good foundation, Decker added, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. “It’s exciting to be in on the ground floor of something new. It can also be frustrating because there’s no written book and in some cases, we’re learning as we go. But we have our eyes wide open and it’s an exciting time for Alaska mariculture. So, if you care about this and want to have an impact, it’s important to get a seat at the table” she said. Ultimately, the goal is to grow a $100 million industry by 2038. Decker said some believe that value is conservative due to increasing demand for shellfish and sea plants. “It’s a matter of putting the pieces in place and everybody rowing in the same direction. That means the state administration, the legislature, the industry and even the public. You must have public support for being able to use public lands on public waters. And so far, we have that for the most part,” Decker said. Alaska shellfish/seaweed harvesters, processors, nursery or hatchery operators, tribes, community development groups, researchers and cities/boroughs are invited to become full founding AMA members at $75. The dues for associate members, including businesses or non-profits, is $50. Applications are due by June 23. Send to [email protected] or Alaska Mariculture Task Force, P.O. Box 2223, Wrangell, AK 99929. Ranking seafood instructs voting Alaskans opted in 2020 for ranked-choice voting as the way to elect candidates starting next year. Voters will get one ballot and rank several candidates for a given office by their preference; the one getting the majority of votes wins. State election officials are using Alaska seafood to test out the new voting method in a mock online primary. Voters can select from 18 choices; so far, Alaska pollock, scallops, king crab and halibut are leading the pack. “At the close of polls at 5 p.m. on June 15, we will tally the top four, and then we will create a general ranked-choice voting election,” Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai told Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin. As in a real election, if no seafood wins a majority of votes in round one, the last place finisher is eliminated and those votes are given to the remaining three until one seafood favorite gets a majority. “People will be able to see how that works, what the ballot is going to look like, and familiarize themselves with what to expect when they go to the polls And they’ll be able to see how the various rounds of tabulation work,” Fenumiai said. Although the seafood mock election is online, voters in next August’s primary will cast ballots in normal ways: in person, or absentee by mail or fax. “In the primary, you’re still going to get one ballot, there will no longer be multiple ballots to pick from, and you will still be selecting one choice for each race that appears on your ballot,” she explained. Salmon slump Salmon catches throughout the North Pacific dropped last year to the lowest levels in nearly four decades. That’s according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, which each year tracks salmon abundances and catches as reported by its five member countries: Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. The Commission also coordinates research and enforcement. Based on 2020 commercial catches, Pacific salmon abundance at 322.5 million fish was the lowest since 1982 and compares to a total take that topped 563 million fish in 2019, and 651 million salmon in 2018. Russia took 48 percent of the salmon catch last year, followed by the U.S. at 41 percent with all but about 5,000 tons of that coming from Alaska. Just 10 percent of the 2020 salmon catch was taken by Japan followed by Canada at 1 percent and less by Korea. Pink salmon comprised 46 percent of the five nations’ catches by weight, followed by chums at 27 percent and sockeye salmon at 23 percent. Cohos comprised 3 percent of the harvest, with Chinook salmon at less than 1 percent. The total 2020 North American salmon catch of nearly 556 million pounds was the lowest since 1977. The sockeye catch of just over 236 million pounds compares to a five-year average of 294 million pounds. For chums, a catch of 67.3 million pounds was a drop from nearly 223 million pounds taken in 2017. The total combined salmon catch for Washington, Oregon, and California of 9.9 million pounds in 2020 was the lowest in the Commission’s data base. For salmon that got their start in hatcheries, total releases by the five nations at about 5 billion fish have been stable since 1993. The U.S. led with 39 percent of total releases; 31 percent were from Japan, followed by Russia at 25 percent, 4 percent from Canada and less than 1 percent were released from Korea. Of the combined hatchery releases 65 percent were chum salmon and 25 percent were pinks, followed by Chinook and sockeye releases at 4 percent. Eat more fish! Americans are eating more seafood and it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing. The latest data compiled by the National Fisheries Institute from the “Fisheries of the United States” report shows that Americans ate 19.2 pounds of seafood on average in 2019, an increase of two-tenths of a pound over 2018. Shrimp remained as the top favorite with Americans eating 4.7 pounds per capita. Salmon held on to the second spot at 3.1 pounds, up more than a half-pound. Canned tuna ranked number 3, with Alaska pollock and tilapia in the top five. Rounding out the top 10 were cod, catfish, crab, Pangasius and clams. The numbers will certainly be much higher when seafood consumption in 2020 is measured, as Americans opted for fish and shellfish in droves during the Covid pandemic due to its proven health benefits. And where in the world do they eat the most seafood? At the Maldives in the Indian Ocean where people consumed nearly 366 pounds per capita. The landlocked countries of Afghanistan and Tajikistan each showed the least seafood consumption at well below a quarter of a pound. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Report: ‘Blue’ economy outpaced national growth in 2019

The nation’s maritime economy accounted for nearly $400 billion worth of gross domestic product in 2019 and its growth outpaced that of the strong, pre-pandemic U.S. economy overall, according to federal data published June 8. Dubbed the “blue economy” by marketing types, the varied water-centric industries from trans-oceanic shipping to mariculture, cruising, shipbuilding, oil and gas development, commercial fishing to beachcombing combined to provide approximately 1.9 percent of the U.S. GDP in 2019. The $397 billion of economic output from the blue economy two years ago — which includes the Great Lakes — represented 4.2 percent growth versus 2018, when the sector generated $372 billion, or 1.8 percent of total U.S. GDP. The growth was not limited to final output, either, according to the first Marine Economy Satellite Account compiled by Commerce Department agencies. Total compensation for blue economy workers increased 7.3 percent in 2019 alone compared to 4.4 percent for the U.S. economy as a whole and employment up 3.2 percent versus 1.3 percent nationwide. Employment in maritime industries totaled 2.4 million in 2019. Government was the largest employer with 647,000 jobs, accounting for nearly one-third of maritime-related employment, followed by leisure and hospitality businesses that employed 464,000 workers nationwide. Businesses in those industries generated more than $665 billion in sales as well, led by the tourism and recreation sector, with $235 billion and national defense and public administration with $180 billion in sales a couple years ago. In Alaska, 2019 largely represented the historic peak of the state’s tourism industry — led by cruising — with more than 2.2 million visitors during the summer highlighted by record warmth across much of the state. The more than 1.3 million Alaska cruise passengers in 2019 represented 13 percent growth from a year prior, according to Alaska Travel Industry Association data. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a prepared statement that the numbers emphasize the importance of maritime industries in the nation’s overall economic recovery, which is quickly ramping up. “President Biden sees the immense value and potential of strengthening America’s blue economy, and this administration will continue to take actions to combat the climate crisis, conserve our oceans and protect coastal communities,” Raimondo said. Nationwide, commercial fishing contributed $7.9 billion towards the nation’s GDP and seafood processing accounted for another $4.4 billion; both were slight increases versus 2018 and were on steadily increasing trends at the time, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis charts. And while the federal report does not get state specific, Alaska accounted for a very large share of that based on a January 2020 report commissioned by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Alaska’s seafood harvesting and processing industries generate $5.9 billion in direct output spread across the nation, according to the report compiled by McKinley Research Group. Acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Ben Friedman said the newly-generated maritime economic data should help government officials with policy as well as assist private groups in making investments in target markets. One of the fastest growing subset of the blue economy was non-recreational vessel construction, which generated $31.2 billion in gross output for a 37 percent increase over 2018. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon buyers eager to replenish depleted inventories

Eager buyers are awaiting Alaska salmon from fisheries that are opening almost daily across the state and it’s easy to track catches and market trends for every region. Fishery managers forecast a statewide catch topping 190 million salmon this year, or 61 percent higher than the 2020 take of just over 118 million. But globally, the supply of wild salmon is expected to be down amid increased demand. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2021 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2020 Season, provides breakdowns for all species by region. And salmon catches are updated daily at ADFG’s Blue Sheet, found at its commercial fisheries web page. They also post weekly summaries of harvests broken out by every region along with comparisons to past years. Predictions for the 2021 mix of fish call for a catch of 269,000 chinook salmon, up slightly from 2020, but 25 percent below the 10-year average. The projected sockeye harvest of 46.6 million will help replenish low inventories that saw strong export prices in early 2021 and “a continued promising market,” said Dan Lesh, a fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group who compiles weekly updates during the season for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The 2021 coho forecast of 3.8 million is 56 percent higher than 2020, and similar to the 10-year average. Coho represent only around 5 percent of Alaska’s salmon harvest value. A catch this year of 15.3 million chum salmon represents a 23 percent drop from the 10-year average, but a nearly 80 percent increase from the dismal 2020 harvest of 8.5 million. Japan is the main destination for chum roe, which saw increased prices to $17.83 per pound in the third trimester of 2020, up 42 percent from the previous year. This year’s pink salmon harvest is pegged at 124.2 million, mostly from catches at Prince William Sound, Southeast and Kodiak. This summer, the Nome Nugget reports that Icicle ​Seafoods plans to bring a processing vessel as well as four or five fishing tenders to buy pinks from local fishermen. Icicle’s headquarters are in Seattle, but the company has roots in Alaska​ processing groundfish, primarily in the Dutch Harbor area and herring in Kodiak and Togiak. Last year’s statewide pink salmon catch of 60.7 million fetched an average dock price of 33 cents per pound, the lowest in five years and a drop from 40 cents in 2019. Other per pound salmon prices to fishermen in 2020 (with 2019 prices per pound in parentheses) averaged $4.74 for chinook ($4.36); $1.06 for sockeye ($1.61); $1.24 for coho ($1.13); and 46 cents for chums (54 cents). Those prices come from the newly released Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports from Alaska processors who are required to provide purchasing and sales reports for all species by April 1 of the following year. The COAR data can be found at ADF&G’s commercial fisheries web page under Statistics and Data. Salmon saint Salmon has its own heavenly patron: Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his saint-hood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle. Legend has it that the king suspected his wife of having an affair because she had given one of her rings to a court favorite. The king took the ring when the man was sleeping and threw it far out into the River Clyde. When he returned home, the king angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it. The queen beseeched Kentigern to help her. He took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river and quickly caught a salmon and cut it open. Amazingly, the ring was found in the salmon’s belly. The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored. From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day his figure and symbols, including salmon, make up that city’s coat of arms. So who knows; perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets. Fishing updates Along with salmon, lots of other fishing activity is ongoing or gearing up across Alaska. Southeast’s Dungeness fishery opens June 15 and crabbers are hoping for another good season. Combined catches for last year’s summer and fall fisheries totaled nearly 6.7 million pounds, more than double the 10-year average, and just shy of the record 7.3 million pounds taken in 2002. Kodiak crabbers also are dropping pots for Dungeness crab in a fishery that last year neared 3 million pounds. A red king crab fishery opens at Norton Sound on June 15 with a 290,000-pound catch quota. Southeast Alaska’s summer pot fishery for spot shrimp is pulling up the last of its 546,000-pound catch. Beam trawlers also are on the grounds targeting a 1.8 million-pound harvest of pink and sidestripe shrimp. Southeast divers are still going down in some areas for the remainder of a half-million pounds of Geoduck clams. Prince William Sound extended its spot shrimp season to September with up to 60 boats vying for a 70,000-pound pot catch. Alaska’s scallop fishery opens in regions from Southeast to the Bering Sea on July 1. The total catch has not been announced yet but last year the small fleet of 3 to 4 boats dredged up a reduced quota of 277,500 pounds of shucked meats, nearly half from the Yakutat region. Alaska’s halibut catch has topped 5 million pounds with Homer, Seward, and Juneau the leading ports for landings. Prices are still running more than $2/pound higher than last year, ranging from $5.50 to $6.75 or more in most major ports, and reaching $7 per pound at Homer. Alaska halibut fishermen have a nearly 20 million-pound catch limit this year. Black cod (sablefish) catches have topped 13 million pounds with most deliveries going to Sitka, Seward and Kodiak. Those prices also are up considerably, ranging from $1 per pound for two pounders to $5.80 per pound for 7-ups. That fishing quota this year is 40.5 million pounds. And as always, fishing continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for a huge mix of Alaska pollock, cod, flounders, rockfish and more. Mask reminder The federal mask mandate remains in effect for fishing crews on all U.S. vessels. And while the Center for Disease Control has relaxed the rules for fully vaccinated people, fishermen are not included. Many have pointed out that it’s critical on noisy boats to be able to read lips or facial expressions and Sen. Lisa Murkowski pressed that point at a May Senate hearing. “This is more a safety hazard than anything else — you’re out on a boat, the winds are howling, your mask is soggy wet. Tell me how anyone thinks this is a sane and sound policy,” she said. Murkowski recently co-wrote a letter to the CDC and Coast Guard asking them to exempt fishermen from the mask requirement, and the pushback has been joined by lawmakers from other coastal states. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has stated it will be checking for compliance and not wearing masks could mean restricted access to ports and operations, along with civil or criminal penalties. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Kelp farm permits still more popular than shellfish

Alaskan interest in growing kelp continues to outpace that of shellfish, based on applications filed during the annual window that runs from January through April. The number of 2021 applicants dropped to just seven, reversing a steady upward trend that reached 16 last year, likely due to a “wait and see” approach stemming from the pandemic. “We had people whose personal situations changed because of COVID. They became homeschooling parents, things like that, where they can no longer dedicate the time they thought they were going to have out on a farm site,” said Michell Morris, permit coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The agency partners with the Department of Natural Resources, which leases the lands where aquatic farming takes place. Of the new applicants, six plan to grow kelp in waters of Kodiak, Yakutat and Cordova and one intends to farm oysters at Sitka. So far 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska comprise nearly 900 acres and 35 pending new applications total 1631.32 acres, Morris said. Most of the active farms (42) are located throughout Southeast, with 26 in the Southcentral regions of Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, and eight at Kodiak. The number of operations reporting sales through 2020 stayed steady at 28, said Flip Pryor, ADFG statewide aquaculture section chief. Overall, sales last year dropped to approximately $1.08 million, down from $1.5 million, with Pacific oysters making up about 80 percent of the value. “Production in 2020 dropped below 1 million oysters for the first time since 2016,” Pryor said. At the same time, sales of primarily ribbon and sugar kelp doubled, topping 230,000 pounds. “The statewide value of aquatic plants was just under $200,000, which is a nice jump from $60,000 in 2019,” Pryor added. Nearly all of the kelp sales came from three Kodiak growers who expect to produce up to 300,000 pounds this year, according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror. All sell their harvests to Blue Evolution, a California-based buyer that produces kelp popcorn, pastas and powders. Alaska kelp pioneer, Nick Mangini of Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed, also is working with the Department of Energy on a biofuel project that would eventually need hundreds of millions of pounds of product. Small growers fill a niche, Pryor said, but it will take bigger operators to scale up the industry’s economic potential. “Small growers can do things like supply local restaurants because of very low transport costs compared to shipping stuff down to the Lower 48. But it’s going to take those big farms and the big processors that have money to invest to bring that volume up and make those economies of scale happen and provide a constant product,” he said. “People who are buying kelp for biofuels, for example, don’t want a boom and bust sort of thing. They want to know they can count on X number of pounds every single year. And that’s definitely going to take some big operations in the water.” Shellfish safety zone Kachemak Bay appears to be a refuge from ocean acidity levels that prevent shellfish and marine creatures from growing skeletons and shells. That’s based on first results of a study begun in 2017 that placed an array of sensors near shore to test for carbon dioxide levels that indicate ocean acidity. The tested regions never indicated long term periods of corrosivity, and that’s good news for aqua-farmers doing business in the Bay. Researchers found that Kachemak Bay also is one of the most variable places on earth in terms of hourly acidic changes, likely due to its vast tidal range. “I think it’s the second largest in the world being about eight meters or 24 feet in total, in June and December,” said Cale Miller, at the University of California who led the study for his doctoral thesis at the University of California. “The other thing that’s important is the oceanography of the Bay itself. You get a lot of influx from the Gulf of Alaska and Cook Inlet, and the Homer Spit bisects the Bay into two distinct regions that have different oceanographic patterns. “There’s evidence that organisms, especially the photosynthesizing organisms, are different between the inner and outer portions of the Bay. And those are what you would call the lower trophic level or food chain items for a lot of other organisms that they live on.” Miller worked under the guidance of Amanda Kelly, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who said the multi-year study will give a better gauge of corrosive water conditions, and when they are occurring. “One of the benefits of studies like these is that we’re able to identify areas that are potentially good for shellfish or maybe not so good, or maybe better for seaweed aquaculture,” she said. “It allows for mitigation planning and community adaptation planning. Let’s say you shift focus from one species to another as an example of mitigation, or maybe a change in the time of year that fisheries are open to better fit with these changing conditions. They need to be able to better strategize for their long term future.” Research shows that Southwest and Southeast Alaska are at higher risk for ocean acidity and Juneau is already identified as a hot spot. Kelly said that area is on their research radar, as are other Alaska regions. “I got an Alaska Sea Grant Award to do a comparison of Kachemak Bay versus Juneau. I have pH sensors down in Juneau and that’s part of our next step in terms of looking at other areas regionally. So that’s exciting,” she said. (The term “pH” stands for “potential of hydrogen,” a measure of how acidic water is. The range goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Levels of less than 7 indicate acidity.) In other good news: This fall the state ferry Columbia will resume testing a stretch of nearly 1,000 water miles for acidity, a project that began in 2017 but was derailed last year due to the pandemic. The ferry runs from Southeast Alaska across British Columbia to Bellingham, Washington. It is part of an Alaska/Canada project to understand how ocean acidity levels change seasonally. The Columbia data will be uploaded daily to the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network website. ‘Frankenfish’ for sale The first sales of more than five tons of genetically engineered Atlantic salmon are on their way to U.S. restaurants and food service outlets where customers will not be told what they’re eating. Federal labeling law “directs” companies to disclose genetically modified ingredients through use of a QR code, on-package wording or a symbol. Mandatory compliance takes effect in January 2022, but the rules don’t apply to restaurants or providers of meals away from home. The Associated Press reports thus far, the only customer to announce it is selling the salmon is Samuels and Son Seafood, a Philadelphia-based distributor. Bio-tech producer AquaBounty raises the manmade fish that are genetically tweaked to grow twice as fast as wild salmon, reaching an 8- to 12-pound market size in 18 months rather than the normal three years. The fish are reared at an indoor growing facility in Indiana with other locations planned. “Most of the salmon in this country is imported so having a domestic source of supply that isn’t seasonal like wild salmon and that is produced in a highly-controlled, bio-secure environment is increasingly important to consumers,” CEO Sylvia Wulf told the AP. AquaBounty markets the salmon as disease- and antibiotic-free, saying it comes with a reduced carbon footprint and none of the risk of polluting marine ecosystems as in traditional sea-cage farming. The FDA approved the AquAdvantage Salmon as “safe and effective” in 2015. It was the only genetically modified animal approved for human consumption until they OK’d a pig for food and medical products last December. Water watch Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune has rejected a state judge’s recommendation that it was wrong for DEC to issue a Clean Water Act certificate to Donlin Gold, the world’s largest gold mine planned upstream from villages along the Kuskokwim River. The state issued a “certificate of reasonable assurance” to Donlin in August 2018 saying it believed its operations would comply with state water standards. But state judge Kent Sullivan last month ruled in favor of Orutsararmiut Native Council, finding the certificate was improperly issued because the mine would not meet Alaska water quality standards, especially regarding high levels of mercury. Brune, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, worked for several years as the U.S. public affairs manager for London-based Anglo American, a 50 percent partner in the Pebble Mine until it walked away from the project in 2013. Resolutions opposing the Donlin project have been adopted by the Association of Village Council Presidents which represents 56 tribes, 13 Tribal Governments, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, and the National Congress of American Indians. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Copper River closed again amid low counts

This year’s Copper River sockeye run is starting out a lot like last year’s, which is bad news for most everyone, except for maybe the fish that are showing up. Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers closed the famed early season drift gillnet fishery for a second consecutive opener May 31 due to poor sockeye counts at the department’s Miles Lake sonar upriver from the fishery. Just 54,154 sockeye had been counted at Miles Lake through May 31, compared to the approximately 132,000 fish needed by that date to meet the department’s in-river goal based on historical run data, according to a June 1 ADFG advisory. However, unusually late ice flows in the river prevented managers from installing all of the sonar equipment ahead of the run, meaning the counts for roughly the first week of the run are incomplete. Similarly, the May 24 fishing period — the last of three 12-hour openers so far this year — yielded 32,227 sockeye when fishermen should’ve netted approximately 56,100 fish based on historical data. Copper River drifters harvested 5,188 kings and 52,729 sockeye in the first three openings of the fishery, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game figures. Cordova Area Management Biologist Jeremy Botz said in a brief interview that he is hopeful the late, cool spring has held many fish back from entering the river on a more traditional schedule. “The Copper’s just running really cold. Some warmer water should hopefully coincide with some increased fish passage,” Botz said. Last year’s Copper River sockeye harvest totaled just 98,300 fish for one of the worst seasons ever after fishing was shut down quickly in response to poor catches and sonar counts. This year managers expected just more than 1.3 million sockeye to return to the Copper, allowing for a commercial harvest of 672,000 fish. The 10-year average Copper River run is approximately 2.1 million sockeye. The closures also come at a time when processors were paying some of the highest prices ever for Copper River salmon. Peter Pan Seafoods announced after the second opener that it would be paying $19.60 per pound for kings and $12.60 per pound for sockeye; prices that are several fold greater than historical averages. Daily sonar counts from May 26 to 31 were consistently in the 7,000 to 8,500-sockeye range and Botz said if the run is going to improve significantly it should start showing in the counts soon. “We haven’t fished for close to 10 days so we think we’ve probably got some decent numbers of fish in the river relative to what this actual run size is,” he said June 1, adding that fishing could be allowed on “pretty short notice” if the situation improves. “We could even have an out-of-cycle fishing period,” if counts justify it, Botz said. The Copper River district is normally open Mondays and Thursdays for 12 hours each period. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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