Fisheries

Sitka direct marketing sales soaring

It could signal fundamental changes in the way seafood will be marketed for a century-old Alaska industry. Or it could be just another marketing niche, profitable for just a few. Either way, Sitka Salmon Shares caught a lot of attention when it began direct sales of Alaska fish to Lower 48 consumers in 2012. Direct marketing of Alaska fish to the Lower 48 is hardly a new idea. Years ago, Sitka harvester Sherry Tuttle drove around San Francisco with king salmon in the trunk of the car, begging chefs to try the product. They did, and liked it. Nic Mink at Sitka Salmon Shares is taking this to a whole new level, however, moving and selling fish in large enough quantities to overcome economy of scale challenges that confront individual harvesters who do direct sales but not so large that the connection for the consumer of where the fish comes from, and who caught it, is lost. That information goes along with a box of fish delivered to customers, and there’s even a link to a video tour of the fishing vessel, Mink says. Sitka Salmon Shares will process and sell about 150,000 pounds of seafood this year with about $4 million in sales. This is no competition for big, traditional processors in Sitka like North Pacific Fisheries, which moves several million pounds of fish every year from its plants in Sitka. But things can change fast these days in business, and the internet and e-commerce have unleashed whole new ways of marketing and business organization even if the seafood enterprises are, for now, small niches. Sitka Salmon Shares had an unlikely beginning. Its startup in 2012 was a project of the Sitka Conservation Society, a conservation group, and was in fact a fund-raiser. Mink, who has a Ph.D. in history and environmental studies, was teaching at Knox College, a liberal arts school in Galesburg, Ill. He was in Sitka in 2011 and helped the Sitka Conservation Society organize a fundraiser, selling fish to faculty at Knox College and friends of Mink’s in Galesburg. “The Sitka Conservation Society’s interest was in creating more support for sustainable fisheries and raising consumers’ awareness of where their fish comes from,” Mink said. The fundraiser was so successful Mink decided to start a business with some of the Sitka harvesters who had supported the effort. This was also near the start of the national “local foods” movement, and with the growth of internet marketing the timing seemed good for new players, like Mink, to bring a different background and new ideas to the business. “I was a professor of natural resource management. Now I’m a fish monger,” he jokes. The first two years involved small steps and learning lessons, with fish purchased from harvesters processed with local custom processors who mainly dealt with sport charters. The business quickly outgrew their capacity and Mink faced a dilemma. Sitka has several very small custom processors and its big, traditional seafood plants. There was no medium-scale processor in between. Sitka Salmon Shares had to create one in 2014 by purchasing Big Blue Fisheries, a custom processor, along with a formal incorporation of the business and recruiting 13 local fishermen as investors (there are 25 who supply fish to the company including the 13 shareholders). Sitka Salmon Shares spent a year updating equipment and installing a high-tech freezer and ice machine to ensure fish stays in top form during two to six weeks in surface shipping to customers. Marsh Skeele, one of the first harvesters to supply Sitka Salmon Shares and a company founder, and who now works full-time in its management, said he was interested in the direct-selling concept. “I want people who buy my fish to know the care that I put into handling them,” he said. Skeele was fishing full-time in 2015, part-time in 2016 while also working in management at Sitka Salmon Shares, and is now full-time with the company among its 35 employees. Mink credits Skeele, a second-generation fisherman, with being an early advocate for the company among harvesters in Sitka. “He helped sell our idea to other fishermen. This was important because there are a lot of small, fly-by-night processors in this business who have left people burned,” Mink said. “The big processors have been here 60 or 70 years and they are known to be reliable. It’s a big risk for a harvester to take a chance, selling to a small, new company,” he said. Skeele convinced fishermen to take the risk. Skeele is recruiting more fishermen to sell to Sitka Salmon Shares but he won’t take just anyone. “We want people who care about quality and who are willing to invest in chilling equipment and even take shorter trips,” to get fish back to Sitka faster, Skeele said. “We also want people who understand the direct connection to the consumer.” Mink said that Sitka Salmon Shares’ distribution and marketing strategy is aimed at selling the product at retail, for salmon typically at about $15 per pound to $25 per pound. That’s in the same general price range as Whole Foods, a national chain that touts its food quality, but Mink said his fish are of higher quality and handled better than Whole Foods. Repeat business from retail customers seems to affirm that, he said. For harvesters, the company’s direct-to-the-customer business model means that Sitka Salmon Shares can typically pay 20 percent to 30 percent above the “dock price” for fish paid by large processors, but since this can’t be guaranteed the company will at least guarantee to match the dock price, Mink said. The big advantage for harvesters, however, is that they know in advance what their prices will be, which gives them stability for planning, Mink said. The large processors’ dock prices can vary during the season. A key part of the business strategy in direct selling is knocking out the middlemen. Some larger seafood companies have as many as four steps in the supply chain, various wholesalers and distributors before the fish arrives at the grocery counter. Only Trident Seafoods and Ocean Beauty Seafoods, both large companies, sell their own branded products but even those go to large retail chains like Costco. Even these sales are a small share of the companies’ overall sales, but they are higher profit. Sitka Salmon Shares goes a step further by selling directly to consumers. The company has 4,000 direct-sale customers in the U.S. Midwest — that’s up from 70 in 2012, the company’s first year — who are served out of three company-owned distribution centers in Galesburg, Ill.; Schaumburg, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and Madison, Wis. Sales span five states in the nation’s heartland, Minks said. It’s no coincidence that the distribution centers are in communities with colleges and a young demographic. Frozen product is shipped by barge to Seattle and trucked east to the distribution centers. Final deliveries to customers from distribution centers are in vans owned by Sitka Salmon Shares, and marked with the company’s name. Customers pay $79 to $109 per month to receive weekly boxes containing four to five pounds of the fish they request. “Eighty percent of our volume moves through our own distribution chain,” to retail customers, Mink said. Market promotion is mostly word-of-mouth through the growing networks of consumers interested in alternatives to the mass-market food supply chain. A critical part of the business model is doing the final processing and packaging at the Midwest distribution centers where costs are far lower than in Sitka, Mink said. “Electricity is almost 10 times more expensive in Sitka than in the Midwest; 15 cents a kilowatt hour here compared with 1.8 cents a kilowatt hour there,” he said. Land in Sitka is expensive and scarce because the community is hemmed in by the Tongass National Forest. Getting good workers can be a challenge in Sitka, a problem shared by all businesses there. Because of this, “we do as little with the fish as we can in Sitka and as much as we can in the Midwest where it’s cheaper,” particularly packaging, he said. There are other ways the company runs lean, such as using public docks to offload fish and load ice on fishing vessels. The large processors, which operate at a much bigger scale, must operate and maintain their own docks. Sitka Salmon Shares can’t be as competitive in wholesale as the big companies, Mink acknowledges. “Still, the large seafood processors sense the market opportunities and some are testing the direct-sales market, but large companies don’t operate well at smaller scale. They’re set up to operate most efficiently at wholesale and in larger volumes,” Mink said. Meanwhile, Sitka Salmon Shares is really into something, he believes. “There’s a huge, untapped market out there,” Mink said, for creative marketing to a younger generation. “E-commerce is changing the relationships between food producers and consumers.” As the nation’s appetite for seafood grows, the market share of consumers interested in the source of their fish, and the sustainability of fisheries, will also grow, he said. ^ Tim Bradner is co-publisher of Alaska Legislative Digest and a contributor to the Journal of Commerce. He can be reached at [email protected]

Copper River outlook improves

Things are looking better than expected for Copper River kings. Sportfishermen, personal-use dipnetters, subsistence fishermen and commercial fishermen are all out now on the Copper River drainage. When the season began May 18, the forecast estimated that only about 29,000 kings would return to the river system, leaving about 5,000 for total harvestable surplus. But early indicators from the commercial fishery showed larger takes, despite more conservative management measures such as restricting hours and closing certain areas. The low forecast also led the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to announce a preseason sportfishing closure for king salmon on the Copper River drainage and a two-fish king salmon limit for subsistence fishermen. On June 3, though, the managers reevaluated the king run based on commercial takes and limited inriver information, and opened up the sportfisheries and rescinded the subsistence restriction. As of the June 12 commercial fisheries opener, Copper River District fishermen had taken about 11,960 king salmon, according to ADFG’s inseason harvest summary. The managers are getting toward the end of the king salmon run and so far have been relatively relieved that the sockeye return hasn’t been exceptionally large, said Jeremy Botz, the assistant area management biologist for the Division of Commercial Fisheries in Cordova. “We’ll start to remove some restrictions here over the next couple of weeks as the chinook salmon run winds down and we’ll be focusing more on our delta wild sockeye and later-timed upriver sockeye salmon,” he said. “The schedule might become a little more liberal here in the next few weeks.” In the past several years, the managers have been dealing with exceptionally large sockeye returns on the Copper River, significantly surpassing the river system’s escapement goal. However, this year, the sockeye run was projected to be weaker than usual, and so far it looks like the run is coming in closer to the forecast than the kings. As of June 13, about 351,360 sockeye had passed Fish and Game’s sonar at Miles Lake, and Copper River District commercial fishermen had taken a total of 328,996 sockeye, according to ADFG data. The preseason forecast was for a run of about 1.5 million sockeye. The sockeye salmon escapement upriver is slightly ahead of what it usually is this time of year, according to the commercial fishing recorded announcement for the Copper River District. “I think the sockeye salmon escapement in the river is the really conservative fishing restrictions we’ve been prosecuting this year,” Botz said. “It just happens that that’s what this sockeye run can sustain anyway. It just ended up pairing fairly well.” Because there is little inseason data available on king salmon, ADFG biologists will gather data from the commercial fishery and from a mark-recapture project near Eyak and perform a post-season assessment of the king salmon run to determine the final escapement.

Assembly passes tax incentive for fresher fish

DILLINGHAM — Some Bristol Bay fishermen are getting a little extra incentive to upgrade their boats. On June 5, the Bristol Bay Borough Assembly passed an ordinance that will allow fishermen who install a refrigerated seawater system in 2017 or 2018 to get a one-time $1,500 fish tax credit. Improving fish quality in Bristol Bay has been a focus for many groups in recent years, including processors, industry organizations, and now the borough. Keeping fish cold is one of the main steps in producing top-quality fish, and a refrigerated seawater system enables a fisherman to keep fish colder without needing ice. Under the new borough ordinance, installing such a system in 2017 or 2018 will make fishermen eligible for a $1,500, one-time fish tax credit to help offset the cost of the work. The Bristol Bay Borough encompasses much of eastern Bristol Bay and the Naknek-Kvichak commercial fishing district. The borough charges a 3 percent tax on the value of raw fish caught in its waters. “It’s an incentive for fishermen to deliver better product,” borough manager John Fulton said. “The assembly wanted to reward Naknek-Kvichak fishermen who upgrade.” Better quality fish should, in time, result in higher value fish — and more revenue for the borough when it collects its fish tax, Fulton explained. Assembly Member Mary Swain helped develop the fish tax credit, and at the assembly’s May meeting said she wanted the borough to support fishermen who were improving fish quality. “I want Bristol Bay to be known as ahead of the curve,” she said at the time. Enacting the incentive, particularly through the raw fish tax, is a little bit tricky. The borough assembly considered both a property tax exemption and the tax refund, and ultimately decided to go the raw fish tax route to target those upgrading their boats right now. “It’s fairly selective in who it benefits,” Fulton said. To get the refund, a fisherman must upgrade their vessel between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018, and prove it to the borough with receipts. Then, the borough will issue the fisherman a voucher that he or she can take to a processor to prove that they get to keep the first $1,500 in taxes they would normally have to pay. In May, Swain said that processors suggested the voucher system when they were approached about the idea of a fish tax credit. That makes it a fishermen’s responsibility to do much of the legwork, rather than adding all of the work to the processors’ workload, she said. Fulton said the borough didn’t have an estimate of how many fishermen will be eligible for the tax credit this year, but it is not expected to be a large number. “We’ll definitely see some,” Fulton said, noting that the assembly hoped it might prompt fishermen who were on the fence about an upgrade to take the plunge. It will be in effect this season, and also next, so that fishermen who are just learning about the credit can upgrade next year and take advantage of it, he said. Bristol Bay Borough is just the latest entity to promote better quality fish in the region, in part in an effort to raise the value of Bristol Bay salmon. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., and others have also been supporting the push. BBEDC has offered programs to help resident fishermen purchase and install RSW systems, and BBRSDA has worked on incentives and an educational campaign to encourage chilling fish. BBRSDA has arranged for some incentives, like discounted shipping to Seattle for fishermen getting refrigeration work done on their boats, and also has a campaign to encourage chilled fish in general. Alaska SeaGrant has also worked on the educational component over the past several years, including working with the other parties to offer RSW operator classes in the Bay. ^ Molly Dischner is a reporter in Dillingham. She can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry gains momentum

Homegrown shellfish and kelp are gaining momentum in Alaska, spurred on by growing markets and the steadfast push by Gov. Bill Walker’s visionary mariculture task force. Applications for more than 1,000 acres of oyster and kelp farms were filed with the Department of Natural Resources by the April 30 deadline, far more than usual. Fifteen are for new farms in the Southeast, Southcentral and Westward regions of which seven plan to grow kelp exclusively. Two farms at Klawok also are adding kelp to their current oyster growing operations. “These permit applications are an indicator that there is developing interest and growth in the mariculture industry in Alaska,” said Linda Mattson with the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development upon announcing the numbers. Along with other state agencies, DCCED is an active part of the 11-member Alaska Mariculture Task Force established by an Administrative Order in 2016. The group’s mission is to provide Walker with a comprehensive report for statewide mariculture expansion by March 1 of next year. Walker believes mariculture of shellfish and seaweeds is a viable means to diversify the economy and provide a $1 billion economy within 30 years. “The timing is right,” said task force co-chair Julie Decker of Wrangell. “It’s exciting that many of the applicants are young Alaska fishermen who are planning to have kelp be an adjunct to help diversify their fishing portfolio. Plus, shellfish are filter feeders and clean the waters and seaweed are a carbon sink and also produce really healthy products. I think we’re on a good path.” For existing aquatic farmers who are growing shellfish, kelp can provide them with a ready cash flow while they are waiting for up to three years for their bivalve crops to ripen. “Kelp only takes about 90 days to grow so you can stagger your plantings and lengthen your seasons,” Decker added. The latest data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show that 54 aquatic farms, seven shellfish nurseries and two shellfish hatcheries are operating in Alaska, primarily growing Pacific oysters, with sales topping $1 million in 2014 and 2015. Production in 2015 of 10.6 million oysters fetched an average price of $9.84 per dozen, up 24 cents, or 2.5 percent, from 2014. “If just three-tenths of a percent of Alaska’s 35,000 miles of coastline was developed for oysters,” Decker said, “it could produce 1.3 billion oysters at 80 cents adding up to over $1 billion a year!” For blue mussels, production in 2015 showed a 74 percent increase to 16,688 pounds with a value of $5.27 per pound (down 47 cents from 2014) for a total of $70,800. In terms of the fledgling kelp industry, a first 15,000-pound harvest last month on a one-acre plot at Kodiak owned by Nick and Stephanie Mangini paid out at roughly $10,000. Their business, Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed, plans to expand to 17 acres by next year. Find links to Alaska’s Mariculture Task Force at the ADFG home page. Salmon at a glance Want to know the values of Alaska’s salmon catches by every region? Or what products the fish are made into and where each goes to market? Find it at a glance in the latest Seafood Market Bulletin from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. It’s compiled by the McDowell Group and also includes dockside values over a decade, and the rank of each species as a percent of Alaska’s harvests. Here’s a sampler: The projected pink salmon catch this summer of 142 million is up by more than one million fish over last year. The average pink price paid to fishermen last year was 34 cents per pound. Frozen fish accounted for 44 percent of the pink salmon value last year with canned pinks at 37 percent. Chum catches this year should increase to about 17 million due to higher catches in Western Alaska. Chums accounted for 15 percent of the Alaska salmon harvest and value over the past two years. The average dock price in 2016 was 61 cents price per pound. Globally, chum production dropped by 30 percent due to decreased catches in Japan. That pushed up roe prices to over $14 per pound. Roe accounts for 37 percent of Alaska’s chum salmon value. Coho catches are expected to increase to 4.7 million this year. The average coho price to fishermen last year was $1.17 per pound. Coho are the latest running of all Alaska salmon species and account for 3 percent of the harvest and 5 percent of the value. Alaska’s sockeye catch is expected to decline 23 percent this year to about 41 million fish, and prices are expected to increase. Fishermen averaged $1.05 per pound last season, up 23 cents from the previous year. Sockeye accounted for 34 percent of Alaska’s salmon harvest over the past two years and 55 percent of the value, ringing in at $302 million in 2016. The chinook harvest is projected to drop by 27 percent this year and produce the smallest harvest in state history. The average Alaska price last year was $4.88 per pound, for a value of nearly $24 million. Ninety-nine percent of Alaska’s king salmon go to markets in the U.S. Alaska’s 2017 salmon harvest calls for 204 million fish, up nearly one million from last year. A mighty wind A warmer than average April could mean an early return of chinook salmon again to the Yukon River and fish watchers are on alert for signs of the first pulse to arrive around June 10. While low numbers mean no commercial fishery again this year, the kings are crucial for subsistence users. Even with 56 years of Yukon data, it’s a tough run to track because the timing is so unpredictable, said Phil Mundy, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Mundy has been studying Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but said it was Yukon elders who taught him how to fine tune the run timing. “They told me ‘the wind blows the fish in the river — everyone knows that, young man,’” he said, adding that Cook Inlet fishermen said the same thing about sockeye salmon. “They said, ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that.’ But we couldn’t figure out exactly how. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something because they seemed to be right,” Mundy mused. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen at Cook Inlet and at Bristol Bay where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume,” he added. “Then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge of the front between the fresh water and the saltwater. I never knew why they were doing that. They will pile up if there is no wind to mix the fresh and salt water to make it brackish. They will pile up on that front until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” In 2006, Mundy saw a scientific article that focused on how salmon make the change from fresh to saltwater and vice versa. “There’s this thing called a calcium ion switch, and it is triggered by alternating exposure to different salinities,” he explained. “Young salmon can’t swim straight into saltwater because it will kill them, and it’s the same for adults in the ocean returning to their home streams. They have to have alternating exposure to different salinities.” At the Yukon, Mundy said the wind mixing the water even tops early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. Today, satellite readings from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make predictions easier and more reliable. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Trump budget dumps NOAA funding

The 2018 budget unveiled on May 23 by the Trump Administration is bad news for anything that swims in or near U.S. waters. At a glance: the Trump budget will cut $1.5 billion from the U.S. Commerce Department, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, taking the hardest hit. The NOAA budget for its National Marine Fisheries Service operations, research and facilities would be slashed by about $43 million. It would eliminate NOAA’s coastal research programs and the Sea Grant program. The Trump dump also includes pulling the budget from NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Program and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which targets recovery of West Coast and Alaska salmon runs. Funding for management and enforcement of U.S. catch share programs, such as halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab, would be cut by $5 million. The budgets for Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grants, Interjurisdictional Fisheries Grants, the Chesapeake Bay project, the Great Lakes Restoration Project and the National Estuary Program also would be eliminated. Another $193 billion would be cut over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that is used by over 42 million needy Americans to supplement food purchases and often includes government-purchased seafood. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, told McClatchy News that the Trump administration “looked at the budget process through the eyes of the people who were actually paying the bills.” Next up, pollock patties A freezer van is portside again at Dillingham, this time filled with frozen Alaska pollock patties. It’s the third fish van to tie up at Dillingham in the past year from SeaShare a nonprofit that brings seafood destined for needy families throughout the region. “We’ve distributed about 200,000 pounds of seafood to needy Alaskans over the past year, but it’s very hard to reach some of the western Alaska communities because of transportation coordination and it gets really expensive,” said Jim Harmon, director of the nonprofit group. “Last year we purchased a freezer container and filled it with frozen seafood in Seattle and shipped it north on an AML barge to Dillingham and installed it at the port there.” SeaShare is the only non-profit in the U.S. dedicated to bringing seafood to food banks. Since 1994 when it began as a “bycatch to food banks” effort, the group has donated over 210 million servings of seafood and provided the logistical framework to get it to needy Americans across the nation. At remote places like Dillingham, Harmon said a true partnership helps pull it off. “The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation was the champion that helped pull this together,” Harmon said. “They issued a grant to pay for the labor that the Bristol Bay Native Association needed to coordinate the downstream distribution for us. Peter Pan came through with a van load of sockeye and Chinook salmon and Ocean Beauty has made donations. It’s community helping community.” “SeaShare’s seafood will feed many low-income families. Currently, we are feeding roughly 272 households in 15 communities in the Bristol Bay region,” said Barbara Nunn, Food Bank Manager at BBNA. The first two Dillingham shipments included salmon; the van tied up now holds 7,000 pounds of lightly breaded, four-ounce portions of frozen Alaska pollock. “Pollock is the biggest fish in the world that nobody knows about. It’s not something we normally send to Alaska,” Harmon explained, “but the At-Sea Processors Association donates 250,000 pounds of whitefish blocks every year and Trident converted them into breaded portions.” Bethel is the next Western Alaska seafood hub that SeaShare is eyeing for hunger relief. “A lot of these coastal communities have fisheries, and they ship all the fish out. Then they import expensive food that, if it’s frozen, has to be air freighted out there which is very expensive,” Harmon said. “If we can help with a distribution framework by putting a freezer there and use surface freight rather than air, we can ship larger quantities and let them distribute it to outlying communities.” Have some herring! Reintroducing mild-tasting, nutrient-packed herring to American menus is the goal of Seattle restaurateurs during next month’s Northwest Herring Week. The event, which began with just eight chefs three summers ago, has nearly doubled last year’s participation. “I think we’re going to cut it off at 60,” said Bruce Schactler, food aid director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, an event sponsor. “I believe there are eight different James Beard Award winners taking part with their restaurants. So it’s turning out to be quite the high profile thing. That’s good when you’re trying to recreate a market.” Herring Week also has spread beyond Seattle to restaurants in outlying regions this year. “We’ve been able to add more people over on the Bellevue side and as far north as Woodinville,” Schactler said. Five thousand pounds of herring fillets are being donated to the restaurants by North Pacific Seafoods from the recent fishery at Togiak. Alaska’s total herring catches top 30,000 tons each year and are valued primarily for the roe from the female fish, The herring also is used as bait, but much of it, especially the males, is turned into fish meal. Globally, herring catches can top four million tons and the fish is a meal staple in other countries. A McDowell study showed that Norwegian fishermen can fetch over $1.40 a pound for herring. Last year in Alaska the average price of bait fish to fishermen was 18 cents a pound and just one penny a pound for roe herring. Herring Week gives diners the opportunity to experience herring in a wide array of high end dishes. “Everything from fritters to pickled and cured to grilled and everything in between,” Schactler said, adding that the annual event could soon expand on the west coast and to Chicago and beyond. Northwest Herring Week runs from June 19 to the 25. Learn more and see a lineup of herring dishes at www.nwherringweek.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

After season closure, board revises Tanner crab strategy

Bering Sea Tanner crab fishermen have a new harvest strategy in place, though it likely won’t be the last time the plan gets revised. The Board of Fisheries held a special meeting in Anchorage May 17 and 18 to deal with just the harvest strategy. Crab fishermen raised concerns about the value of the harvest strategy and survey methods after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided to close the 2016-17 season because surveys showed that the biomass of female crabs in the Bering Sea survey area fell below a required threshold for the fishery to open. Fishermen, however, said they were seeing large numbers of females in their catch. The board unanimously voted to adopt a new harvest strategy at the recommendation of ADFG staff that will revise a number of standards for calculating how the fishery will open. Major changes include transitioning how female maturity is assessed, including the females west of the 173 degrees West latitude line in the calculation and changing the year range used to estimate long-term Tanner crab female biomass. Fishermen raised several issues with the previous strategy’s assessment method and worked with ADFG to hash them out. The harvest strategy the board passed included a number of industry-supported suggestions but didn’t go entirely along with their recommendations. Ben Daly, the commercial fisheries biologist who presented the staff report on the Tanner crab fishery to the board on May 17, said the department collaboratively manages the fishery with the National Marine Fisheries Service through the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The council, through its Scientific and Statistical Committee, sets the overfishing limit and the acceptable biological catch limit, and ADFG sets the total allowable catch, or TAC, and manages the fishery in accordance with the plan approved by the board. The managers have a middle amount of information about the Tanner crab fishery — more than some and less than others, Daly said. The old harvest strategy had more conservative measures programmed in when data was lacking, he said. “The general philosophy of the department is when uncertainty is high, precautionary measures are appropriate,” he said. Tanner crab populations have also been in decline, with a sharp change in the late 1970s in an event that biologists call a regime shift. At that time, a number of unclear factors led to a decline in crab production and an increase in fish production, Daly said. To account for that and not skew the numbers too high for a threshold beyond what the fishery can reasonably produce, ADFG recommended adjusting the long-term data accounting from 1982–2016. ADFG will start including female crabs west of the 173 degrees West latitude line in their calculations for female biomass, whereas in the past, only females east of the line have been included. Under the new harvest strategy, females will also be assessed for maturity based on their abdominal flaps, known as observed maturity. The female threshold functions like an on-off switch for the fishery, which can leave fishermen completely without recourse if the survey turns out below that level. ADFG is considering alternatives to the threshold tool, creating a scale instead, which Daly referred to as the “conservation band,” essentially providing a range of actions based on the assessment. It’s not ready for implementation yet, but the department will continue to work on it, he said. “What we’re doing here is essentially creating a band that defines points of conservation concern,” he said. “…It would essentially turn the on-off switch into a dimmer.” Multiple stakeholders said they favored the conservation band approach. If the fishery were not controlled by a strict threshold, fishermen who depend on the income could depend on it more year after year, said Wes Jones, the fishery development director for the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., in public testimony to the board. “Fisheries that have this on-off switch are not good for continual year after year employment,” he said. “We’re not talking these people need three months’ employment … one month works really well, it fits into their lifestyles really good.” The Tanner crab fishery has grown significantly in the past several years with successful marketing strategies, said Tyson Fick, the executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Association. The closure marked a sharp halt to a fishery that had grown equally sharply. The previous year’s Tanner crab harvest was 19.7 million pounds, an increase over the 15.1 million pounds in 2014-15, and was worth $45.3 million. International demand has always been strong, but domestic demand has grown as well with restaurants like Joe’s Crab Shack and Red Lobster featuring Alaska bairdi Tanner crab in advertisements. The industry has an interest in working with ADFG toward a consistent but sustainable harvest strategy, he said. “With worldwide recognition that we are continually looking to look out for the resources and improve how we assess that resource, how we can have an industry and have a industry and protect that resource?” he said. The board retained one part of the harvest strategy despite industry requests for it to be eliminated, known as the half-TAC penalty, which halves the total harvest if the fishery was closed the year before. ADFG staff said the rule won’t apply to next year’s fishery because the harvest strategy changed, but recommended the board retain the rule until a better conservation tool is developed, Daly said. However, it would only come into play when the entire threshold calculation is below the confidence interval in the calculation, which isn’t likely to happen in most years, he said. “It’s there; we think it’s a reasonable conservation measure,” he said. “The probability of it being enacted it certainly lower. If it’s enacted, we think we have bigger concerns. It’s still there.” Multiple board members praised the collaboration between the department and the stakeholder groups, who provided recommendations through an ad-hoc committee, on coming up with solutions for the Tanner crab fishery strategy. Some of the other issues can be addressed at the upcoming regular cycle meeting in March 2018. For now, the strategy seems like a reasonable approach, said board member Sue Jeffrey. “This allows more flexibility and consistency, we’ve heard a lot from … the harvesters and processors want consistency, as do the markets,” she said. “I really think that this answers a lot of those concerns. There was that short-term loss, losing a crab season is painful for everyone involved. I think through this exercise, we are on solid ground for more stability.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Copper River managers proceed cautiously after large king harvests

Commercial fishing managers in Prince William Sound are planning to continue opening the fishery, despite concerns about low king salmon returns to the Copper River system. In the first two commercial fishing periods of the season on May 18 and May 22, salmon fishermen brought in about 3,600 king salmon, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game in-season harvest summaries. The first wild-caught king salmon of the season, the fish garnered a record-breaking $50 per pound in the Lower 48, where they arrived late last week. However, the low preseason forecast led to a complete closure of sportfisheries on the Copper River drainage for king salmon and led to a restriction on retention in the subsistence fisheries. The Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee petitioned the Board of Fisheries to find the situation as an emergency and take action to restrict the commercial fishery to conserve kings. However, the board declined to take up the petition on May 17, saying the commercial fishing managers had enough tools to manage for the low run. The harvest of kings so far is above what the managers expected, indicating that the preseason forecast of 29,000 kings — only about 4,000 fish above the 25,000 minimum escapement goal — could have been low, according to the Wednesday fishing update from the Cordova office. Salmon gillnet fishery area management biologist Jeremy Botz said the managers plan to maintain a conservative approach to openings. The next commercial fishing period is set for Thursday, May 25. The 4,000 harvestable king salmon above the escapement goal isn’t a hard and fast number for the managers; the high harvest in the first two periods, despite additional time and area restrictions, may mean that the run is larger than forecast, he said. “That’s the forecast, so there’s no sort of predetermined harvest limit, that’s just what we anticipate,” Botz said. “…We don’t have enough information there whether to say whether it’s necessarily larger or not. So far, the commercial harvest has been larger than expected.” Commercial fishing managers need to provide openings for fishermen to harvest sockeye salmon, the primary target species in the area. In the first two periods, commercial drift gillnetters harvested nearly 88,000 sockeye, according to Fish and Game data. However, the king salmon run will peak soon, and a set of low tides will make the fish more vulnerable to harvest, so the managers will account for that in their decisions on how to prosecute the commercial fishing periods, Botz said. “We’re also approaching peak run timing for Chinook, and also some additional peak tides that are going to move some extra fish into the river,” he said. The managers cut back the hours for the Thursday period from 12 hours to nine hours, lasting from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and kept the inside king salmon conservation area closed. The delay in the morning time will be to account for the low tide that makes fish more vulnerable to harvest, Botz said. Subsistence harvest is open in concurrent areas and times with the commercial fishing areas, according to the commercial fishing announcement. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Managers deploy across state amid budget impasse

Alaska salmon managers are hoping for the best and planning for the worst as lawmakers extend into a special session to try and agree on a state budget. It is the third year in a row they have not finished their legislative session on time due to budget differences. The haggling, which could last up to 30 days, means pink slips could go out to all state workers in less than two weeks in advance of job layoffs. “It’s similar to what happened last year. Pink slips go out on June 1 and then we have to start getting people out because they cannot be on salary effective July 1,” said Scott Kelley, director of the commercial fisheries division at Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game headquarters in Juneau. “At this point, we are acting under the assumption that we are going to have a budget,” he added. Kelley admits he’s closely watching the calendar as salmon fisheries get underway. Fish and Game differs from most state departments because so many workers must be flown or boated to remote salmon counting sites across the state. Orderly field camp setups and shutdowns take several weeks of advance planning. “Day by day we are already increasing our field presence. The Chignik and Karluk weirs are supposed to go in this week, the Miles River sonar at the Copper River and other things across the state. We will be scrambling,” Kelley said, adding that about 670 fishery workers are on the job each summer. The budget impasse also would stall other summer fisheries, and derail stock assessment surveys for Tanner crab in Prince William Sound, red king crab in Southeast and black cod at Chatham Strait, to name a few. The governor’s operating budget for the commercial fisheries division for the next fiscal year is just more than $70.7 million, which reflects a net gain of $670,000 to cover contracts and inflation costs. Kelley said the extra money was spread to projects across the state that “are most closely linked to opportunities for fishing,” such as aerial surveys for Southeast salmon, the Coghill Lake project at Prince William Sound and Igushik salmon counting towers at Togiak. But not having the money to manage the salmon season is the biggest concern caused by the legislative lollygagging. Alaska’s salmon fisheries are tracked on a daily basis during the season to make sure enough fish can make it upriver to sustain future stocks. If that can’t happen, the result would be lost harvests from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. “The economy of the state would take an enormous hit if we had to pull stock assessment projects, and that is obvious to everyone who lives here,” Kelley said. “That’s why I’m optimistic because it is just too big to ignore. And the legislators know that.” Fish Expo for a good cause The first annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo that will occur next month at Naknek has a dual purpose. The event is summed up by its theme of “Bridging the Bay: Connecting the Community and the Industry.” “So many people come into our community each summer but they never get to be a part of it, and they really want to be,” said Katie Copps-Wilson, an Expo organizer. The town of Naknek swells from a population of about 400 to 12,000 when the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay gears up and gets underway each summer. But there is little contact between local fishermen, residents and those who come to work in the Bay. Copps-Wilson, who is a physician’s assistant at the local Camai Community Health Center and a clinic liaison with the processing companies, said she discovered the disconnect a few summers ago. At a “meet and greet” dinner last year with local processors, she said it was clear more people wanted to bridge the divide. “Every year people come here who are yoga instructors and swim teachers and artists and carpenters. Some people spend every summer here their whole lives. We have a vast collection of talent sitting around our community. How can we capture that and make it a part of our summer?” Copps-Wilson said. The idea for a local Fish Expo evolved over the winter and really picked up steam when it added another purpose: raising money for the Little Angels Child Care Academy. “The lack of child care in our community is causing families to leave,” Copps-Wilson explained. “Every day you see listings on our local Bristol Bay Exchange by people who are desperately seeking child care. These are young families with young kids that just want to support their families. And right now they can get work, but there is nothing available or very limited as to what they can do for child care.” Last fall the grass roots effort received an $80,000 start-up grant from the Bristol Bay Borough to secure a building and furnishings. But the money cannot be used to cover payroll for a small staff. “The school room is ready. We need to raise $13,000 to open the doors,” Copps-Wilson said. The Fish Expo is likely to make that happen. Already more than 30 vendors, agencies, associations and “Made in the Bay” businesses have signed up for exhibitor booths and the list grows daily. The Expo also will feature local artists, movies, foods, a fashion show, raffles, swag bags and a job fair. “It’s a time to talk fish, advertise, recruit, sell products, celebrate salmon and simply get to know each other,” the Expo announcement exclaims. Copps-Wilson said one of the best things “is to see how excited people are,” and donations (tax deductible) are arriving daily from near and far. “A fish company in New Mexico did a salmon taco feed and donated over $700 to us. It’s really humbling to see how businesses that aren’t here year round love our community and want to give back,” she said. “This will mean so much to everyone,” Copps-Wilson added. “Our hope is to really connect the community and the industry. The bottom line is that we all need each other.” The Bristol Bay Fish Expo is set for June 9 and 10 at the Borough school in Naknek. Find more information on Facebook and sign up to participate or donate to Little Angels Academy at [email protected] Copper River haul Fishermen fetched high prices for the first salmon catches from Copper River. Grounds prices were reported at $7 to $8 per pound for sockeyes and $10 to $10.50 a pound for kings. That compares to starting prices last summer of $6.50 and $9.50, respectively. The prices will drop when more Alaska salmon fisheries come on line. Roughly 77,000 pounds of sockeye and king salmon were flown by five Alaska Airlines cargo flights from Cordova to Seattle on May 19 after a 12-hour opener on May 18. Every year the airline partners with Ocean Beauty, Trident and Copper River Seafoods to bring the season’s “first fish” to eager retailers and restaurateurs in Anchorage and the Lower 48. Ocean Beauty donated the first fish of the season — a 45-pound king salmon —to the eighth annual Copper Chef Cook-Off held on the tarmac at Sea-Tac airport. During the competition, three chefs from Seattle have 30 minutes to prepare and serve three salmon dishes to an audience of Alaska Airlines customers and guests. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Record Copper River king prices celebrated at annual seafood event

Restaurants from Seattle to New York City paid about $50 per pound — a new record — for the Copper River king salmon sold direct from Cordova fishermen on May 19. A representative 45-pound Copper River king was the royal guest at a public seafood event celebrating spring’s famous run in Alaska on May 19. About 100 people turned out for a five-star restaurant sampling as part of the festivities featuring the king on square white paper plates. The salmon, held between U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Copper River Seafood CEO Scott Blake, was caught aboard Pete Blake’s FV Dakine on May 18 in the Copper River opener. It was flown to Anchorage May 19 in time for the 2:30 p.m. event. Chefs from Orso and 49th State Brewing Co. fired up the grill to treat folks to signature appetizers. Orso Executive Chef Rick Griffin created a strawberry-spring salad drizzled by a sweet balsamic dressing and topped by a king wedge. The 49th State Executive Chef Todd Podborny combined a couple of appetizers from the Denali 49th State Brewery and the Anchorage restaurant: micuit with orange zest tarragon and citrus cured salmon sided with tapenade arugula crème. Each year, Copper River Seafoods celebrates the first fat-laden kings taken from its famous home waters. At the Alaska Airline Cargo hanger, discussion about this year’s prices was part of the celebration. At $50 a pound market price per pound for the king, what would an entre at 49th State cost? About $33.99 for a plate of blueberry barbeque salmon, said Ellen Maloney, the restaurant’s marketing promoter. At Orso, an entre dinner featuring Copper king, grilled asparagus, roasted fingerling potatoes, pesto and grape tomatoes was going for $48.95 while sockeye salmon in similar presentation goes for $34.95. “Strong pricing for the fishermen and aggressive marketplace prices mean a real range,” said Marin Weiser, chief development officer at Copper River Seafoods. “At Pike Place Market (in Seattle) you’ll see it go for $65 pound and at Costco, they may see it as low as $12.99 pound.” Copper River Sockeye wholesales at $27 per pound to restaurants for now, but as the season progresses, the price on both species will drop as the supply becomes more abundant. The preliminary harvest estimate from the 12-hour opener on May 18 was 1,900 Chinook and 36,000 sockeye salmon said Cassandra Squibb, chief marketing officer for Copper River Seafoods. This compares to an anticipated harvest of 37,200 sockeye salmon for this period. Managers are closely watching the king salmon harvest because of a forecasted run of just 29,000 kings compared to a minimum escapement goal of 24,000. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasted a commercial harvest of just 3,500 kings, but that had been exceeded in just two periods after another 1,700 were caught in a 12-hour period on May 22 for a total of 3,617. No additional fishing periods had been scheduled as of May 24. “All of the kings we processed were pre-sold,” Squibb said. “Demand for Copper River King Salmon is at an all time high; we have more demand than we have fish to supply.” Fishermen earned $11 a pound for Chinook and $8 a pound for sockeye from the Copper River, she said.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood values stable, new crab surveys and a fish promotion

The U.S. seafood industry’s contribution to the nation’s economy sank a bit, while Alaska’s output increased slightly and dollar values held steady. An eagerly anticipated annual report released May 9 by NOAA Fisheries measures the economic impacts of U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries. It highlights values, jobs, and sales for 2015, along with a 10-year snapshot of comparisons. A second report provides the status of U.S. fish stocks for 2016. The Fisheries Economics Report shows that including imports, U.S. commercial fishing and the seafood industry generated $144 billion in sales in 2015, a six percent decline from the previous year, and supported 1.2 million jobs, a 15 percent decline. “However, it’s important to consider these figures are still above the five-year average. In fact, 2015 represents the second-highest level during that period,” Alan Risenhoover, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs said at a May 9 press teleconference. For Alaska, commercial fishermen landed more than 6 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2015, a 6 percent increase from 2014, while the value of the catch held steady at $1.7 billion. Fishing and processing in Alaska generated $4.4 billion in sales in 2015 and 53,400 jobs, of which 38,000 were fishermen. Other highlights: Pollock accounted for 54 percent of the total Alaska harvest volume. Alaska crab values totaled $284 million, the highest level since 1999. Halibut received the highest dock price at $4.85 per pound in 2015; herring fetched the lowest price, averaging just one penny a pound. Alaska pollock ($509 million), salmon ($413 million), and crab ($284 million) dominated landings revenue. Recreational fishing in Alaska put 5,407 people to work and saltwater anglers spent about $470 million for fishing trips and equipment. A total of 309,000 anglers fished in Alaska in 2015, an 8 percent increase, and spent approximately 975,000 days on the water, a two percent increase from the previous year. Halibut (691,000 fish), coho salmon (578,000 fish), and various rockfish (475,000 fish) were the most frequently caught fish by Alaska anglers. Stock status: Fishery managers continued to notch successes in protecting and rebuilding the 474 fish stocks they oversee. According to the Status of U.S. Fisheries report for 2016, over 90 percent are not subject to overfishing, which is defined as catch rates being too high. For Alaska, blue king crab at the Pribilof Islands is the only stock listed as overfished, meaning a population is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes, such as environmental changes. When asked how the role of climate change is affecting NOAA’s healthy resource projections, Risenhoover said that warming waters and off kilter ocean chemistry can affect fish stocks in a number of ways. “It may change the abundance, the how and where they reproduce and how successful they are at reproducing. It also changes where they live,” he explained. “We see some stocks perhaps moving north to colder waters or offshore for deeper, cooler waters. The management councils and the agency are trying to plan ahead on how to best manage those stocks as they move, and also increasing the science associated with our stock assessments.” Tanner retakes Surveys in June could set the stage for fishermen to once again drop pots for Tanner crab at Prince William Sound. Earlier this year the state Board of Fisheries okayed a new harvest strategy that sets crab abundance thresholds for opening a fishery, based on estimates that will come from trawl surveys next month. Up to 14 million pounds of bairdi Tanners were produced at Prince William Sound in the early 1970s. Then, as with other parts of the Central Gulf, the numbers steadily dwindled. No fishery has occurred in the Sound since 1995. More recently, while crab numbers continue to appear low, a good pulse of recruits has shown up in surveys and subsistence pots. Should a Tanner fishery occur, the shell size of the legal male “keepers” has been reduced from 5.3 inches to 5 inches. “We have a terminal molt condition situation in both Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound where male crabs are not reaching legal harvest size. They reach a maximum size and stop growing,” said Jan Rumble, groundfish and shellfish manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer. Rumble cautioned that the summer survey to determine the fate of the Tanner crab fishery could be tanked depending on the outcome of the state budget. Similarly, reopening the Tanner crab fishery in the Bering Sea is the focus of a special May meeting where the board, managers and university biologists also will focus on the harvest rules. The fishery produced the Bering Sea’s biggest crab catch in 2015 at 20 million pounds, but was abruptly closed last year when surveys showed low numbers of females. Bairdi Tanner crab, the larger cousin of snow crab, is the only fishery that uses a female-only indicator for stock abundance. The closure caused a loss of $50 million to the crabbers, and pulled the plug on expanding purchases by Joe’s Crab Shack and Red Lobster. The crab fleets believe lots of Tanners are out there based on their pot pulls, but that the crabs are just not showing up in the surveys. “It’s a challenge when you have a fishery like this where the survey is done with a trawl and it’s a pot fishery. It’s difficult to know what the female population is because the gear is rigged to select for larger male crab on the bottom,” said Tyson Fick, director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We want to think about alternatives to a single open/close threshold, like the on and off switch where it went from almost 20 million pounds to zero.” It’s important to update and verify the best available science, Fick said, adding, “We really value and appreciate the opportunity to discuss this.” The crab meeting is set for May 17-18 at the Anchorage Sheraton. Seafood delivered Local catches of halibut and spot shrimp are new additions to the Catch of the Season program, along with salmon jerky bites by the Hoonah Tribe’s Dear North Salmon Co. It’s part of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s ongoing and expanding “Caught for Alaskans by Alaskans” campaign that delivers boxes of fresh/frozen seafood to customers in Anchorage, Homer, Fairbanks, and most recently, Seward. “It lets buyers know that their dollars are supporting community-based fishermen, and they learn the who, what, where, when, and why of that specific seafood. And all profits go back into marine conservation efforts,” said David Fleming, AMCC seafood sales manager in Anchorage. Find poundages, pricing, pickup locations and ordering info at [email protected] Deadline to order is May 19. Top fish job Chris Oliver, longtime executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has accepted the top job of Assistant Administrator of National Marine Fisheries Service. Oliver received unprecedented support from across the nation. His tentative start date is June 19 after the appointment is approved by the White House. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Alaska salmon season ready to kick off in Cordova

Alaska’s salmon season officially gets underway in less than two weeks! The first fishery for sockeye and king salmon is set for May 18 at Copper River and the town of Cordova is buzzing, said Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. “The mood changes at the start of May with all the folks back in town and boats going in and out of the water,” she said. Enthusiasm among the fleet of more than 500 drift gillnetters has not been dampened by a reduced harvest projection. Fishery managers expect a Copper River salmon catch this season of just 889,000 sockeyes, 4,000 kings and 207,000 coho salmon. “Regardless of the forecast from one year to the next, fishermen just want to have their nets in the water. It’s what they do and they are ready to go,” Hoover said. The marketing group, which is funded and operated by local salmon fishermen, is again working with Alaska Airlines to whisk away the first catches to awaiting retailers and restaurants in Seattle. Every year, images of airline pilots carrying the famous “first fish” off the plane make headlines around the world and add to the media hoopla surrounding the Copper River catches. The salmon are first hand delivered to three chefs who have a cook off on the Sea/Tac airport tarmac. The dishes are served to airline guests who select a winner. The Cordova group also uses the opportunity to promote the fact that Copper River salmon isn’t just a “May event,” Hoover said. “We do a lot of outreach to help people understand that there are five months of wild Alaska salmon coming out of Cordova, especially with cohos into the fall,” she explained, adding that they also are broadening their salmon messages to build more awareness and appeal for the entire Prince William Sound fishery. Alaska’s total salmon catch for 2017 is pegged at 204 million fish, nearly 1 million more than were taken last year. The breakdown for the five species calls for a sockeye salmon harvest of nearly 41 million, a decrease of 12 million reds from last year. Coho catches should increase slightly to nearly 5 million; for chums, a catch of nearly 17 million is an increase of more than one million fish. The projected statewide take of pink salmon is 142 million, an increase of nearly 103 million humpies over last year. For chinook salmon, the forecast calls for a catch of 80,000 in regions outside of Southeast Alaska, where the harvest is determined by a treaty with Canada. The all-gear Chinook catch for Southeast in 2017 is 209,700 fish, or 146,000 fewer than last year. Pass on pinks Alaska salmon fishermen hoping for relief funds from last year’s failed pink salmon fishery appear to be out of luck. The pink fishery, the worst in over 40 years, was officially declared a failure in January by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, setting the stage for fishermen and other stakeholders at Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet to seek disaster assistance from the federal government. The monetary assistance, however, was not included in last week’s huge $1 trillion-plus spending bill approved by Congress to keep the government operating through September. The bill also did not include disaster relief funds for West Coast salmon and crab fisheries. Congress could choose to appropriate the money separately, but chances of that happening are slim. Antibiotics turn off For 20 years, the movement to use the “power of the purse” to promote and reward sustainably managed fisheries has set a global standard for seafood purchases. Today, it’s nearly impossible for a company to do business without being officially certified as a source for earth-friendly seafood. This month another global effort was launched that uses the same strategy to promote new standards for the use of antibiotics in seafood and other animal products. The Michigan-based National Sanitation Foundation International has tested food products for health and safety since 1944. Its new Raised Without Antibiotics certification program will provide independent verification of claims made on food packages that they are antibiotic-free, including seafood, meats, dairy, eggs, even leather and certain supplements. The campaign follows a NSF survey last year that showed nearly 60 percent of consumers prefer products that are free from antibiotics. That’s backed up by the NPD Group, a market tracker that operates in 20 countries, interviews 12 million consumers each year and monitors purchase data from more than 165,000 stores. NPD said that consumers are demanding “free from” foods with fewer additives, especially antibiotics, growth hormones, tweaked genes, and they are reading labels like never before. Antibiotics are widely used in the farmed fish industry, most notably in Chile (the largest importer to the U.S.), which has come under fire for using more than one million pounds of antibiotics to ward off a fish virus, according to the National Service of Fisheries and Aquaculture. What’s worse, Intrafish reported that 50 Chilean salmon companies refused to disclose the amount and type of antibiotics they used, saying “such disclosure would threaten their business competitiveness.” In contrast, Norway, the world’s biggest farmed salmon producer, uses about 2,100 pounds of antibiotics, mostly to combat fish lice. Sea lice are the farmed Atlantic salmon industry’s most expensive problem, costing around $550 million in lost output each year. “Free from” food labeling requirements and guidelines generally apply to products raised in a controlled environment,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Salmon in Alaska hatcheries may also receive antibiotics on occasion, but there have been no detectable levels of antibiotics found by the time the salmon are harvested in the ocean,” he said. NSF International is now seeking companies to sign on to its Raised Without Antibiotics campaign, saying, “Without an independent protocol and certification process, customers have not been able to verify claims made by marketers — until now.” Good idea grants Gulf of Alaska groundfish are at the forefront for “innovation” grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Fisheries Innovation Fund. The Fund is a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Walton Family Foundation. The grants, totaling $650,000, aim to support projects that help sustain fishermen and coastal communities, promote safety, and support fishery conservation and management. While the Gulf is selected as a target area, the Innovation Fund will consider proposals in all U.S. fisheries, both commercial and recreational. Successful projects should include approaches that promote full utilization of catches and minimize bycatch, develop markets, research and training, and “improve the quality, quantity and timeliness of fisheries-dependent data used for science, management and fishermen’s business purposes,” according to a NFWF statement. Alaska groups and communities have obtained several Innovation grants in recent years. They include Sitka’s Fisheries Trust Network that aims to acquire and keep catch quotas local, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s “Every Halibut Counts” project that promotes gentle release methods, and the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization for its sport sector catch share project. The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association also have received grants to test electronic monitoring systems. Pre-proposals are due May 25 and invitations for full proposals will be sent on June 29. Full proposals are due on Aug. 31 and the NFWF will announce award winners by Nov. 17. Find more information and applications at http://www.nfwf.org/fisheriesfund/Pages/fisheries2017rfp.aspx ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permits slide, but quota shares skyrocket

The values of Alaska salmon permits are on a downward slide, while prices for quota shares of other catches continue to skyrocket. Despite an optimistic outlook this year for Alaska salmon catches and markets, buyers and sellers are still feeling a hangover from last year’s tough fishing season. “If you were involved in salmon last year, you probably didn’t have a great year, unless you were in Bristol Bay. There wasn’t a lot of extra money to pick up an extra permit or move into a different fishery, and I think we’re seeing that,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Overall for salmon permits it’s a slower market this year,” agreed Jeff Osborn of Dock Street brokers in Seattle. At the bellwether sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay, drift permits have slumped below $135,000 since last fall. “We’ve had several sales at $129,000 and listings at $125,000. So, for whatever reason, those have slipped by about $10,000 in the last few weeks,” Bowen said. Southeast drift permits have dropped slightly to the $83,000 range. Prince William Sound drift “cards” topped $165,000 but now are trading closer to $150,000. PWS seine permits also come in at the range or slightly above. “It’s supposed to be a great year there, but we’re not seeing it reflected in those prices,” Bowen said. “They’re certainly not going up very far, very fast.” Cook Inlet drift gillnetters have had several lousy fishing years and this year is looking bleak. However, a new rule to allow permit stacking has boosted interest in permits there. A Cook Inlet drifter can now hold two permits in his name and fish the extra gear. It is the first drift gillnet fleet in the state to be able to do so. “That propped up that value from a low of $33,000 and they are trading right now for around $45,000,” Bowen said, adding that the permit price is still down considerably from $90,000 just a few years ago. The lowest value seine card is at Kodiak, reflecting a steady slide from $50,000 not long ago. “We’ve sold a few at $25,000. That’s the lowest salmon seine permit price anywhere in the state,” Bowen said. “People can make good money there, but Kodiak is a tough salmon fishery.” Both brokers agreed that a good salmon season this year will help buoy all boats along with the value of salmon permits. The forecast for Alaska’s 2017 salmon catch is 204 million fish, nearly one million more salmon over last year. Quota share highs Prices for quota shares of Alaska halibut are jaw dropping. “They’re in the $70 per pound range in Southeast and the $60 range in the Central Gulf,” said Doug Bowen. Quota prices are approaching the $45 mark in the Western Gulf, the $30 range for the Aleutian Islands fishery and in the teens for Bering Sea regions. “Even small pieces of Delta class for smaller boats are trading for $51, $52 and $53 a pound. It’s just unheard of,” he added. Halibut quota share prices have gone up about $5 per year for several years as the fish stocks appear to have stabilized and increased slightly. Dock prices for halibut also have remained high, often at $6 to $7 per pound at major ports. The halibut quota shares are not flying off the shelves at those prices, but Bowen points to more movement in small batches. “It’s almost a retail market for fishing quotas, where if a fella holds a fair amount, he will cut away a chunk of 1,000 pounds to be able to complete his boat projects or retire some debt,” Bowen said. The quota share prices for one of Alaska’s most lucrative catches — black cod, or sablefish — also are on an upswing. Shares in the Central Gulf region are at $29 per pound, an increase of $8 over last year. Black cod quota in Southeast Alaska has jumped to $35 per pound. The increase is due in part to dock prices nearing $10 per pound for large black cod over 7 pounds. “There is a really strong grounds price, and there was an increase in the TAC (total allowable catch), which was somewhat unexpected,” said Dock Street’s Osborn. “And, of course, pots.” Starting this year, fishermen can use large pots in the Gulf of Alaska to keep whales from robbing their pricey black cod catches. “Getting whaled” can sometimes cost a boat up to half of its catch on hook and line gear. Nearly 2,000 fishermen hold quota shares of halibut and black cod in Alaska. Crab quota climbs Alaska’s Bering Sea crab fisheries also are managed under a catch share system for a pool of roughly 400 “owning entities.” Prices have gone up on a per pound basis since the catch share system began in 2005, but during the same time, most of the crab catches have been reduced significantly. Catch quotas for Bristol Bay red king crab are listed at $55 per pound; snow crab at $16 to $28 per pound, and Tanners at $8 to $13 per pound. “Sales have been much more limited,” Jeff Osborn said, adding that there “certainly is a fair bit of consolidation” in the crab fisheries. “It’s subject to the same influences as black cod and halibut,” he added. “Guys might be interested in selling, but you’re looking at a catch that’s been cut by 50 to 70 percent over the past few years, or reduced to nothing. They’re not too keen on selling when everything looks down despite the higher prices.” Uncertainty over new rules coming for some crab quota holders also has stalled the market. Crew or skippers who own shares but do not have “active participation” in the crab fishery (or another Alaska fishery) by June 30, 2018, will not receive their quota shares for the 2018-19 season; if they do not have participation by June 30, 2019, their quota is revoked. “In the past, once certain quota purchase requirements were fulfilled, they did not need to stay active in the fishery. That is changing,” Osborn explained. “There are a lot of guys who have participated in the fishery all their lives and are now retired. “They are being forced to either get back in the fishery, even on a minimal basis, or they will have to sell their quota or lose it. It certainly restricts the number of people who are interested in purchasing quota shares.” Alaska is tops on the menu Alaska seafood now tops the list of all other protein brands on the menus of 500 national restaurant chains, besting Angus beef, Kobe beef and Louisiana seafood. Research shows that 94 percent of diners are more likely to order a seafood dish when the word “Alaska” is on the menu. That’s the take away message from the 2016 annual report of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The ASMI report is filled with user-friendly information about Alaska’s seafood industry and how it plays out at home and around the world. Here’s a sampler: about 60,000 people, mostly Alaska residents, work in the state’s seafood industry. More than half (31,580) are fishermen, operating 8,600 vessels and delivering their catches to 176 processing plants around the state. One third of Alaska’s resident commercial fishermen live in Anchorage and the Southcentral region, more than any other region of the state. Pollock is still Alaska’s biggest catch, topping 3 billion pounds last year. Salmon came in as the most valuable catch last year, topping $540 million. China is the number one export customer for Alaska seafood, followed by Japan, Europe, Canada and lately, Brazil. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Legislation takes on ‘graying of the fleet’

Numerous studies over the past decade have highlighted Alaska’s “graying of the fleet” (the average age of permit holders is 50), and the lack of opportunities for younger people to launch a career in commercial fishing. State data show that between 1975 and 2014, more than 2,300 limited entry permits (nearly 28 percent) migrated away from Alaska’s rural fishing communities to non-residents. A new measure gaining steam in the Alaska Legislature aims to reverse that trend by creating fisheries trusts in which communities could buy permits and lease them to fishermen who otherwise could not afford them. “It’s good to recognize the problem, but it’s even better to try and do something about it,” said Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, sponsor of the legislation (House Bill 188). Under the plan, regional trusts could buy or be gifted a maximum of 2.5 percent of the permits in any given fishery, and lease them for up to six years to fishermen who want to make the transition from deckhand to permit owners. The fishermen must then buy their own permits if they choose to continue in a fishery. The trusts would apply to all limited entry fisheries in Alaska. At the outset, the trusts would be authorized in up to three Alaska regions that choose to opt in, and must be approved by two-thirds of any municipality. Board members would be recommended by cities and boroughs in each region and appointed by the governor. Unincorporated communities may also be included on the board. “Just as people often rent before buying a house, fisheries trusts offer an opportunity to run a boat and gain experience before making the six-figure decision to finance a permit and become an independent small business owner,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. Interested stakeholders, which include Alaska Native groups, state agencies and fishing organizations from Southeast to Nome, have spent more than two-and-a-half years developing the idea. “We are continuing to craft and refine the model in terms of legality and policy,” Kreiss-Tomkins said, adding that the level of interest is very region specific. “Some are very bullish about the opportunity, some are not. That’s totally fine,” he said. “We expect some will watch and see how it goes, and then make a decision once they have more information.” The measure is scheduled for hearings during the current extended legislative session although it is not expected to be put to a vote. “We are taking it slow and steady,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “In the interim, we are hoping to grow the conversation with fishing communities, economic development advocates and other stakeholders who would benefit from this tool in their tool box. Then we will be ready to revisit it next year.” Voices from the fishing front Fishermen are on the front line when it comes to the impacts of an off-kilter climate, and an ongoing “listening” project by The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is giving voice to what they are experiencing. Called Tidal Change.org, the project began gathering comments last fall from a wide cross section of fishermen on how a changing climate is affecting their lives and views on the future. “Our main intention is to make sure that people have an opportunity to hear stories that are truly authentic and rooted in personal experience that perhaps aren’t otherwise being heard,” said Dustin Solberg, a Nature Conservancy writer based in Cordova. Here’s a sampler: “I’ve noticed a lot of environmental changes,” said Melanie Brown of Juneau, a longtime setnetter at Bristol Bay. “The rivers don’t freeze anymore and the ice floes aren’t there to protect the bluff above where our site is. It’s starting to fill in my site so it goes dry more quickly and I have less fishing time. It’s daunting.” “The last 35 years I’ve noticed the ocean warming in places where the salmon have to navigate up coastal streams,” said Bob Snell who fishes the Washington and Oregon coasts. “It is difficult for them to get up to their spawning grounds, and to survive after they’ve laid their eggs in the warm water.” Eugene Anderson, a lifelong fisherman from Chignik, said most fishermen agree that, “something is not right.” “Over the past years since the waters have warmed up the fish blush earlier. By the first week of August you start getting fish in the river back and they are all red, and the salmon are smaller. Sometimes we have water temperatures as high as 60 degrees, and when the water is warmer the feed is not as prolific. The young people really have to think about what’s going on. It’s a very uncertain time. It’s kind of scary.” Larry Vander Lind, who has fished at Kodiak and Bristol Bay since the early 1970s, said fishermen are seeing more algae blooms in the water and more jellyfish. Peter Andrew of Dillingham, a 45-year fishing veteran added: “Scientists speak about water temperature being a key part of the survival of sockeye and other salmon species. I’ve seen the water temperature go up and it is very alarming to me. Bristol Bay is an absolute wonderful place and it’s going to take some good stewardship and policy makers to make sure this fishery stays as it has been for 10,000 years.” “I don’t care what people say, there is global warming and it’s changing things,” said Jon Gaedke who has trolled for king and coho salmon in Southeast for 26 years. “People look at me like I’m a nut, but I tell them the salmon are confused. The patterns they have followed for years and years — now they don’t seem to know which way to go or where or when to go. That’s pretty scary business.” Find more fishing voices at Then Nature Conservancy in Alaska online and on Facebook. Herring happenings Kodiak’s herring season, which began on April 15, has produced 70 tons so far and is on hold while awaiting a resurgence of fish. Unlike roe herring fisheries at places like Sitka Sound and Togiak that can wrap up after a few short openers, Kodiak’s herring hauls can occur at up to 80 different places and last into June. This year’s herring harvest is limited to 1,645 tons. Togiak in Bristol Bay is Alaska’s biggest roe herring fishery and all signs point to it kicking off at the traditional time in early May. Budget cuts last year had processors pitching in for aerial surveys to spot the herring swarms, and precluded any stock sampling. Now a $61,000 boost will help get herring monitoring back on track. “We need to have information on the age and size of the fish that are harvested,” said Tim Sands, area manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Dillingham. “Without that we can’t forecast the next year’s return and we have to be much more conservative. That’s reflected in this year’s harvest level of 23,000 tons as we had no data to work on.” This year’s projected Togiak harvest is down by more than 10 percent from the past two seasons. Participation and price, however, are on an upswing and four buyers are expected. “It looks like we’re going to have 19 seine boats and 16 gillnetters. Last year we only had three gillnetters,” Sands told KDLG. “I’m hearing rumors of $100-$150 a ton so the price is back up and that’s bringing them back into the fishery.” Farther west, a lack of buyers has kept herring boats beached for about a decade. Nearly 12,000 tons could be taken from fisheries up the coast from Security Cove to Norton Sound if there was a market. Statewide, Alaska will produce less than 40,000 tons of herring this year. Only the female fish are valued for their eggs, all of which go to Asia; the males are typically ground up for meal or dumped. Last year, the average price for roe herring to Alaska fishermen was just 11 cents per pound. In Norway, where herring are smoked, pickled and canned, fishermen fetch more than $1.40 per pound. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

2017 sockeye forecast weak for Cook Inlet

KENAI — Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial salmon fishermen are predicted to have another slow season, if the forecast proves accurate. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2017 commercial salmon fishery outlook predicts a total run of about 4 million fish to all the stream systems in Upper Cook Inlet, which includes the Kenai, Kasilof and Susitna rivers as well as a number of smaller streams. Commercial fishermen are projected to harvest about 1.7 million of that, the lowest projected harvest in the last 15 years. It’s largely the Kenai River not living up to the recent 10-year average. The river is projected to see a return of 2.2 million sockeye, about 39 percent below the recent 10-year average of 3.6 million fish. By contrast, the Susitna River is projected to see about 366,000 sockeye return, about 5 percent below the average; the Kasilof River is expected to see about 825,000 sockeye, about 16 percent below the recent average, according to the forecast. The 2017 forecast follows a poor 2016 season, when the run came in significantly below the prediction. Total harvest by all user groups was about 3.3 million sockeye rather than the 5.3 million fish predicted. “Overall, the 2016 sockeye salmon run was 26 percent below forecast, largely due to the below forecast Kenai sockeye salmon run,” the forecast states. The biologists who conduct the forecast always include a margin of error — for the Kenai River run, it’s 20 percent below or above, with the 2.2 million as the point estimate. For the Kasilof, it’s a 12 percent margin of error. Area Management Biologist Pat Shields said the managers are relatively confident in the forecast models, though it’s always subject to error and is reviewed when in-season data starts to come in. “When you run those models and if you get a big difference, (the forecaster) tends to look at the performance of a model for the last few years … and look at which of the models has performed the best,” Shields said. “You can end up using multiple models.” Better than 2016 By late summer 2016, it was apparent that the big days of sockeye harvests weren’t going to materialize. Commercial fishermen had only harvested 1.6 million salmon by July 19 last year, what is typically in the middle of the sockeye season. By July 26, Fish and Game dropped its estimate for the return to all of Cook Inlet by 1.8 million to 1.9 million sockeye. Two age classes seemed to have had a hard time returning: the 4- and 5-year-old sockeye. It wasn’t the only strange run. Commercial fishermen all over Alaska puzzled over the disappointingly small pink salmon returns, but many noted the exceptionally large fish. Cook Inlet’s setnetters recorded an average of 5 pounds, the largest on record, as compared to the usual 3.6 pounds. But this year, pink salmon returns look better around the state, and sockeye runs outside Cook Inlet look rosy. Bristol Bay is expecting a run of approximately 41.5 million sockeye, about 26 percent more than the recent average, according to the 2017 Bristol Bay season outlook. Of that, about 27.5 million fish would be available for commercial inshore harvest. About 16.1 million sockeye salmon are expected in the Naknek-Kvichak District; about 10.7 million in the Egegik District; about 5.5 million in the Ugashik District; 8.6 million in the Nushagak District and 660,000 in the Togiak District, according to the outlook. All fisheries in Bristol Bay open June 1 by regulation, but additional fishing time is based on in-season data. “The department manages fisheries based on inseason information regarding abundance,” the outlook states. “The inseason management approach uses a suite of tools to provide information on abundance in each district as each run develops and that information is used by the department to determine fishing opportunity.” If the forecast holds true, it will be the second big year in a row for Bristol Bay. In 2016, salmon fishermen in the bay saw a run of 51.4 million fish, the second highest in the last 20 years. The preliminary ex-vessel value of $156.2 million was about 40 percent higher than the average in the last 20 years. Improving prices Prices look to rise as well, said Andy Wink, the seafood project manager for research firm McDowell Group. For several years, a large harvest of sockeye salmon in Alaska has pushed down prices, especially in competition with the massive numbers of farmed salmon entering the market from farms like Norway, Chile and Scotland. However, an algal bloom in Chile and widespread infections of sea lice have damage farmed salmon production, pushing up prices significantly. Processors’ backstocks of frozen sockeye are down, and with demand up but supply lower, the prices are likely to rise, Wink said. “We’ve got strong headwinds, but it hasn’t all been pulling against us,” he said. “Because, for the last 10 years, farmed salmon production has grown about 5 percent. Last year, they estimated production down 7 percent. That’s certainly a very large decline when you’re talking about 4.5 billion pounds of fish. That’s a lot of missing supply. That’s been helpful.” Processors have been hit hard by the extremely strong U.S. dollar. A valuable U.S. currency is bad for Alaska’s seafood market — when other currencies are worth significantly less than the dollar, it typically pushes prices down. Cook Inlet lost a major processor in spring 2016 when Great Pacific Seafoods filed for bankruptcy, closing its Kenai, Anchorage and Whittier plants. Bristol Bay saw an improvement in prices last year from the very low prices in 2015, but not quite up to pre-2015 levels, according to ADFG records. However, with the farmed market down and demand higher, signs look good for improved prices, Wink said. “This year it’s going to be kind of interesting how this year plays out,” he said. “I suspect there’s a lot of buyers out there who would like to reproduce what they’ve done in the last several years, but there’s probably not going to be as much going around this year.” Board of Fisheries changes Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen also have some new regulations to watch for. The Board of Fisheries passed several proposals loosening regulations on East Side setnetters, including exempting the East Forelands statistical area from the paired restrictions system, which pairs setnet openings with Kenai River late-run king salmon escapements, and pushing back the effective date for the one-percent rule. Because the king salmon forecast predicts a run of 33,600 large king salmon, which is higher than the sustainable escapement goal of 13,500 to 27,000 large king salmon, the season can start off normally and be managed for in-season abundance, according to the outlook. The board also opened up the use of a near-shore fishery to help control Kasilof River sockeye salmon escapement and keep the managers from having to open the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area, a terminal fishery in the mouth of the Kasilof River that has been widely criticized by fishermen. When authorized, setnetters can operate their full complement of gear within 600 feet of shore, which allows them to stay on their sites and has shown promising results for controlling escapement without catching too many king salmon, Shields said. “It puts commercial fishermen more in their regular area,” he said. “It lets people fish from their regular fish sites rather than getting hundreds of people to move from their regular fish sites. That change the board made, probably of all the changes for setnetting, has potentially the largest impact.” Drift gillnetters can now stack multiple permits and have the potential to get one inlet-wide period in July if the projected run to the Kenai River is between 2.3 million sockeye and 4.6 million sockeye. Though the current projected run is less than 2.3 million, Shields noted that it would only take a relatively small variation to push the run into that management tier, so the managers may have the option to open up one inlet-wide period. Otherwise, the drifters are restricted to fishing in Drift Gillnet Area 1, a large area that stretches across the inlet between the south side of Kalgin Island and the Anchor Point Light. “If the forecast is correct, the change to the drift plan won’t come into play this year,” he said. “If the forecast is just a little off, that’s something the department will have at their discretion to use.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon outlook looks bright for 2017

A brighter outlook for Alaska’s upcoming salmon season just got even better. Markets are looking good, the statewide salmon catch forecast of 204 million is up by a million fish, and the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay is breaking records for chilling its fish. Last year nearly 40 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value came out of Bristol Bay. When its fish fetch a better paycheck for boosted quality due to chilling, it is felt throughout the entire salmon industry. “The size of the Bay harvest has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere. Typically, it’s 35 to 40 percent of the global sockeye supply,” said Andy Wink, senior seafood analyst with the McDowell Group. “When the base price in 2015 was 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest, sockeye prices in other areas fell and we also saw coho prices come way down. It’s a market moving fishery and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen,” he said. The 2016 Bristol Bay harvest of 37 million sockeye salmon from the region’s five river systems was the second-largest in 20 years, and both drift and setnet harvesters chilled the largest amount of raw product in the history of the fishery. That’s according to a processor survey done each year by Northern Economics Inc. of Anchorage by contract with the driftnet fishermen-funded and operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “This is huge for the retail potential of Bristol Bay,” said Rebecca Martello, BBRSDA executive director. “The fleet is making great strides to ensure Bristol Bay is a quality product and this definitely ties into all aspects of marketing and making Bristol Bay the premium brand we know it to be.” The 2016 survey captured raw product data, fleet information, ice production volumes, chilling methods, and opinions of trends and priorities within the fishery. Some highlights: Responses by the region’s 12 major processors showed that 71 percent of the Bristol Bay driftnet fleet’s 1,390 participants chilled their catches, compared to the previous high of 59 percent in 2012. Of the total 212 million-pound Bristol Bay salmon harvest that crossed the docks, chilled fish topped an “astounding” 137 million pounds. Drifters delivered a record 123 million pounds of chilled sockeye, a 40 percent increase from the previous year. The amount of salmon chilled by 858 setnetters decreased by 3 percent. The number of “dry deliveries” (unchilled) dropped below 22 percent, down nearly half from 2009. Last year saw a big shift away from putting the reds into cans and focusing instead on more valuable products: fresh and frozen fillets and headed/gutted fish. Canned production dropped by nearly 17 million pounds (just 27 percent compared to over 70 percent two decades ago), while H&G fresh production increased eight-fold to nearly 14 million pounds. Salmon fillet production approached 50 million pounds, a 50 percent increase. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged 76 cents per pound for their sockeye salmon last year. The average chilling bonus has steadily increased since the processor survey began in 2008, from 11 cents per pound to 16 cents per pound in 2016. At an average weight of 5.4 pounds, that makes each sockeye salmon caught last year worth more than $4.75 to fishermen. The sockeye salmon harvest at Bristol Bay for 2017 is projected at 27.5 million fish. Swap Meat for seafood A new marketing angle is designed to lure more Americans to eat wild Alaska seafood. It’s called Swap Meat and the name says it all. “Alaska seafood is incredibly versatile, and Swap Meat is a way to use it in recipes where you traditionally use a different protein like pork or chicken or beef,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau. Swap Meat, he said, aims to make seafood more approachable to American consumers. Studies show that many are hesitant to try fish or shellfish because they don’t know what to buy or how to prepare it. The Swap Meat promotion provides a cartload of familiar recipes aimed at busy families that can go from stove to table in less than 30 minutes. “Halibut corn dogs, quesadillas, sliders, soups, fajitas, cod parmesan, crab mac and cheese — there are so many ways to substitute Alaska seafood,” Woodrow said. Swap Meat is being widely promoted with social media and direct contact with retailers and chefs. The ultimate goal is to get Americans to eat more seafood; federal dietary guidelines advise eating fish at least twice a week. “The USDA recommends that Americans eat a minimum of 26 pounds of seafood a year. That’s only 8 ounces a week. Most Americans are averaging around 15 pounds a year,” Woodrow said. There are some positive trends. Salmon, for example, is America’s top fish favorite. “In the last year or so for the first time, salmon surpassed tuna as the number one fish consumed by Americans,” Woodrow said. “It’s number two behind shrimp still, but salmon is king of fish in the US.” (See more at www.wildalaskaseafood.com.) Young for young fishermen Alaska Rep. Don Young, along with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., introduced a bill last week to help assure a future for up and coming U.S. fishermen. Called the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, the legislation would create the first ever national grant program through the Department of Commerce to support training, education, and workplace development for the nation’s next generation of commercial fishermen. In a press release, Young called the program “only one effort to preserve fishing heritage and encourage new participation in the industry.” “Young fishermen are facing bigger challenges than ever before — new barriers to entry, limited training opportunities and a lack of support. This legislation is about supporting the livelihoods of fishing communities in Alaska and across the nation,” he said. The program is modeled closely after the successful Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. The legislation would authorize up to $200,000 in competitive grants through NOAA’s Sea Grant Program to support training in seamanship, navigation, electronics, and safety; vessel and engine repair and maintenance, fishing gear engineering and technology; marketing, finances, business practices and more. “Congressman Young understands the challenges young fishermen face, and we thank him for his strong leadership on this vital issue,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Empowering the next generation of young fishermen is essential to economic opportunity, food security and our way of life.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Habitat bill draws attention, but won’t get vote this year

JUNEAU — It is already being dubbed, “fish first, nothing else.” Reps. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, have introduced a bill that would set up a new fisheries habitat permitting system, to be administered by the state Department of Fish and Game, for construction projects that affect waterways. Critics say the legislation would add serious burdens to environmental permit systems that are complicated enough, and set standards that many development projects will be unable to meet. Stutes brought the bill up in the House Special Fisheries Committee, which she chairs, for an initial hearing April 11. She said she will not push to move the bill this year, but will hold it for interim work and possible action in 2018. Although he is not listed as a co-sponsor, the bill is reportedly a priority for House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham. One effect of the bill is a presumption that all waters of the state support anadromous fish and would be listed by ADFG, which would trigger the permit requirement. Many Alaska streams do not support anadromous fish, and for those the developers would have to do site-specific studies to show salmon or other species are not present. Under current law, the Habitat Division of ADFG maintains the Anadromous Waters Catalog of streams that support anadromous fish. If projects affect a listed stream a state permit is now required, but what is proposed in HB 199 is far more stringent. For major projects ADFG would have to do a detailed analysis not unlike the state Best Interest Finding documents prepared by the Department of Natural Resources for major state decisions. Fisheries groups supporting HB 199 say the current Title 16, which sets out the anadromous fish stream protection dates from the early 1960s, needs an update. The state Board of Fisheries wrote a letter in January urging legislators to update the statute and include public notifications, which are not in the current law. Advocates for HB 199 argue the process for listing streams is cumbersome and expensive because state biologists must do field work to test for fish. Because of that only 50 percent of the streams that actually support anadromous fish are listed, it’s argued. HB 199 would also lay out criteria for unacceptable projects causing stream impacts, which would automatically trigger a denial. Unacceptable projects would be those requiring water treatment in perpetuity, which some mining projects must do; replacement of a wild salmon stock that would be affected with hatchery stock, or a project that would dewater or divert an anadromous fish habitat for more than five years. These requirements would effectively block projects like Pebble, the Chuitna coalmine and Susitna hydro projects. At the April 11 hearing, fisheries groups supporting the bill said it was proposals for the Susitna and Pebble mine projects that caused them to push for specific standards to protect salmon as well as public notice requirements, both which are absent from current law. Lindsey Bloom, a member of Juneau-based “Stand for Salmon,” said her group was among those urging the Board of Fisheries to write its letter in January. At the hearing, critics of HB 199 said the bill goes far beyond what the Board of Fisheries recommended, however. Maver Carey, president of The Kuskokwim Corp., or TKC, an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act village corporation formed by several mid-Kuskokwim communities, said, “House Bill 199 appears to be an effort to fix something that is not currently broken.” “The overreaching regulation and processes proposed will not only have a detrimental effect on proposed economic activities in the Middle Kuskokwim region, but may have detrimental effects on our much-needed community infrastructure projects along the Kuskokwim and its tributaries,” Carey wrote. TKC is the surface landowner at the proposed Donlin Gold mine, a large project now in advanced permitting. Two Native regional corporations, Doyon Ltd. and Cook Inlet Region Inc., shared TKC’s concerns in letter to the committee. Both corporations signed on to a letter opposing the bill submitted by the Resource Development Council, or RDC. The letter was also signed by several business and community organizations. “Concerns with this bill start with the question of why it is necessary. What is it trying to fix?” said Marleanna Hall, executive director of the RDC, an Anchorage-based development advocacy group that counts both mining and fishing as its member industries along with oil and gas, timber and tourism. To comply with the bill, “the added time to resource agencies, as well as permit applicants, would increase uncertainty and costs for development opportunities without a corresponding benefit to fish habitat,” Hall told the committee. There would be effects on upgrades to community infrastructure, such as airports and roads and construction of wastewater treatment plants as well as economic development with fish processing, timber harvesting and mining and oil and gas development, Hall said. However, the state’s premier commercial fisheries group, United Fishermen of Alaska, and other commercial and recreational fish groups have signed on with support, as well as several Native organizations. Not all fisheries groups support HB 199, however. One, the Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association, weighed in against the bill April 11, arguing that everything HB 199 proposes could be done by regulation, said David Harsila, president of the association, and Anchorage attorney Geoffrey Parker, who works with the Bristol Bay association. Several at the hearing said ADFG now has authority and the flexibility to achieve the goals of HB 199 without setting up a new permit system. In a separate statement, Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, weighed in against the bill: “HB 199 would create an expensive and cumbersome state permitting system that would be more onerous than current federal regulations. It would be harder to get state approval for oil and gas projects than it would be to get a section 7 permit under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) or a 404 (Clean Water Act) permit from the Corps of Engineers,” Moriarty said. “The bill would be duplicative,” of other permit systems, she said. “It’s easy for the anti-Pebble community to try and make this a fish verses mining bill, but it’s way beyond that.” Tim Bradner is co-publisher of Alaska Legislative Digest and a contributor to the Journal of Commerce. He can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Electronic monitoring rollout coming soon

Automation is coming to Alaska fishing boats in the form of cameras and sensors to track what’s coming and going over the rails. Starting next year, electronic monitoring systems, or EM, can officially replace human observers as fishery data collectors on Alaska boats using longline and pot gear. Vessel operators who do not voluntarily switch to EMS remain subject to human observer coverage on randomly selected fishing trips. The onboard observer requirement originally included vessels 59 feet and longer, but was restructured in 2013 to include boats down to 40 feet and, for the first time, was applied to the halibut fishery. “Those smaller vessels have had a hard time accommodating human observers so we have been focused on that,” said Bill Tweit, vice chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that oversees the program. Smaller boats also had a hard time with skyrocketing observer costs under the restructured program, which in some cases, went from less than $300 to $400 per day to over $1,000. Starting in 2013, 15 pot cod boats aligned with the Homer-based North Pacific Fisherman’s Association and Saltwater Inc. of Anchorage to field test EM in the Gulf of Alaska. “We saw EM as a tool that could address many of the issues we had with the observer program. It has moved at a glacial pace, but it is finally moving and much more needs to be done,” said Malcolm Milne, NPFA president. The EM systems were purchased with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or NFWF, and proved they could track and identify more than 95 percent of species required for fishery management decisions. “Overall, the reception of EM by participants in the pot cod fishery has been positive,” said Abigail Turner-Frank, NPFA project coordinator. “Fishermen have expressed their enthusiasm about the potential cost effectiveness, not having to worry about an extra person onboard and the utility of the cameras showing hi-def deck views of their crew and gear while fishing.” Testing EM on longline vessels has been ongoing since 2011 via the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in collaboration with NFWF, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and Archipelago Marine of Canada. The trials showed the costs, including data analysis, were $198 per day for six Sitka vessels and $332 per day for Homer boats. The EM system most often used costs about $3,500 for hardware and installation, plus an additional $1,000 per year for data transfer fees from Alaska to Seattle. Nancy Munro, Saltwater president, suggests that the data review could be done in Alaska to “create a tighter feedback loop.” She also strongly advocates that instead of losing their jobs, many fishery observers can be integrated into the EM program as data analysts to “keep their talent and experience in the fisheries.” There are currently 458 fishery observers deployed in Alaska’s fisheries. The public has until May 22 to comment on the EM program to federal policy makers. “We want to hear how well we did at tailoring this and secondly, we want to hear what their next priorities are,” said Bill Tweit. Comment at alaskafisheries.noaa.gov. Spring fishing More Alaska fisheries get underway during the spring months while pollock, cod, ocean perch, rockfish, flounders and many more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Here are some highlights: In Southeast Alaska, the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound wrapped up on March 29 after seiners took the 14,600-ton quota after four openers in about one week. The golden king crab fishery just wrapped up throughout the Panhandle with some of the lowest catches in 17 seasons. Pot pulls at Icy Strait and Northern Areas yielded just over half of the 20,000-pound limit for the two regions. Lingcod opens in Southeast waters on May 16 for jig and troll gear with a 310,700 pound harvest limit. At Prince William Sound an exclusive sablefish fishery kicks off on April 15 with a 117,000-pound quota. That same day, a trawl fishery begins for sidestripe shrimp in the Sound with a catch set at just less than 113,000 pounds. Kodiak’s herring season begins on April 15, with a lower harvest this year of 1,645 tons. Managers said they expect an uptick in the herring stock of mostly small, three to five-year-old fish. Thus, the smaller quota. Halibut catches are picking up slightly with more than 1 million pounds taken out of the 18 million pound catch limit. Landings are down 27 percent from the same time last year, while prices are up 10 percent in the $6.50 to $7 range. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery should wrap up its 19-million pound catch quota any day. Hope for climate change A new book that is part fast paced adventure, part philosophy and provides a road map to climate change “hope spots” is drawing rave reviews. “I am a firm believer that you have to find reasons for moving the needle, and being hopeful that you can still make a difference in this world,” said Kate Troll of Juneau, the author of “The Great Unconformity: Reflections of Hope in an Imperiled World.” Troll draws on her 22 years of experience in climate and energy policy, elected office, coastal management and fisheries. As a former director of the Southeast Seiners Association and United Fishermen of Alaska, she was instrumental in getting 100-foot buffers along salmon streams in Southeast Alaska. “That was a monumental step taken in an era of large scale clear cutting. Now we have those streams protected and it serves as a model for other areas. It’s become the norm, and that’s key to the sustainability of our fisheries.” “We have daunting challenges,” she added. “Whoever reads the book, your eyes are going to be opened wide. But I want to arm you with hope and resilience for the future.” One way to seed “hope spots”, she said, is “using our wallets” to support sustainable fisheries and other earth friendly causes. Another already is yielding big results. “Capitalism has progressed in renewable energy and wind and solar are now cost competitive with fossil fuels and natural gas. We’ve reached what is called grid parity with a lot of renewable energies and that’s an important development,” she said. Troll also documents how the “love of place” plays out in making major impacts in the crusade for sustainability. “It’s important to protect the right of regeneration of our species, salmon being one of those most iconic, and to talk about how we have done so in Alaska,” she said. What makes this book unique and fun to read is that Troll combines her messages with amazing adventures. “I’m a firm believer that if I can tell some really entertaining stories, the messages stick a lot better,” she said. “You’re climbing Denali with me, we’re running wild rivers, we’re kayaking among whales, we’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro — I’m intent on entertaining the reader and taking you on a really good ride.” “The Great Unconformity” is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble book stores. Troll will do a book signing at the UAA bookstore on April 24 from 5-7. Visit www.katetroll.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

North Pacific council takes first step in creating salmon plan

A lot of new faces are coming to the table at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and not a lot of them are happy about it. Fishermen who had never previously been involved with the council now have to show up to have a hand in how their fisheries will be incorporated into a federal fishery management plan, or FMP. The council, which regulates federal fisheries off the coast of Alaska, on April 6 started in on the topic of the salmon plan for Cook Inlet, part of the Alaska Peninsula and part of Prince William Sound near Cordova. After removing the three areas from the plan by amendment in 2011, effectively exempting them from federal oversight and delegating entirely to the state despite occurring partially in federal waters, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the move was illegal. Now, the council is having to initiate the process of revising the salmon FMP to include the three areas, which is likely to take years. The State of Alaska is appealing the decision with a petition to the Supreme Court, but the court has not decided whether to take up the case yet. At the April 6 meeting, the council — which didn’t agree with the court’s decision but has to start addressing it anyway — got into the complex questions the plan will have to answer. The council didn’t make an attempt to answer any of the questions at the meeting April 6, but passed a motion solidifying the preliminary purpose and need, a number of alternatives and forming a stakeholder workgroup, which would decide its scope and agenda at future meetings. The motion will require council staff to focus on those questions to bring a more thorough analysis back to the council. The stakeholder committee, or committees, will not be formed until after the council gets its next review of the topic. One of the first hurdles is that the council doesn’t usually regulate directed salmon fisheries. As anadromous fish, most salmon are harvested within three nautical miles of shore in terminal fisheries, which are in the state’s jurisdiction. However, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the council is required to manage harvested species throughout their ranges. For salmon, that would include state waters and potentially in-river fisheries, where essential salmon habitat is found. The council wrangled with the question of whether they could preempt state management, which is provided for in law, at the meeting April 6. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration legal counsel Lauren Smoker clarified that legal precedent says the council wouldn’t be able to preempt state management in internal waters, which puts in-river management off limits. The state waters near shore, though, may be a different story. Another part of the conundrum is setting criteria for overfishing. The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires the council to set accountability measures to meet the 10 sustainability criteria that are set out in the law, but the parameters of those are based on species and subject to evaluation by NOAA. For salmon stocks, management is based on the state’s analysis and setting of escapement goals, which are in-river and based on state data. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, the trade group that sued to have the amendment removing the net areas overturned, argued that the state was not meeting Magnuson-Stevens Act sustainability criteria and needed to be held to federal oversight at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council level. In its comments submitted before the meeting, UCIDA said it was not opposed to the state’s escapement goal management, and state day-to-day management of openings and closures may be more effective than federal management, which can be slower. UCIDA Vice President Erik Huebsch said the group wants to see the state held accountable to the sustainability criteria and the fishermen get the opportunity to harvest surplus salmon in Cook Inlet to prevent overescapement. “We see problems in Cook Inlet, both with habitat problems and management problems,” he said. “…We would like to harvest these stocks for (maximum sustained yield), but for various reasons, we don’t really get to do that.” Cook Inlet’s fisheries are a tug-of-war when they come up before the state’s Board of Fisheries. In late February and early March, stakeholdes and the board met for 14 days to hash out regulations for the area’s sport, personal use and commercial fisheries, with hundreds of comments and sometimes hours of discussion on a single topic. Ricky Gease, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, asked the council to consider the effects on in-river sport and personal use fishermen, who sustain a massive sportfishing and tourism industry in Southcentral Alaska. He said the group supported the council deferring as much management to the state as possible and suggested restrictions like limiting the number of openings in the federal waters and a genetic project on sockeye salmon harvested in federal waters to protect depressed Northern Cook Inlet stocks. “Though this salmon FMP will impact three areas, Cook Inlet definitely has some unique features to it, and it’s the most complex management system for salmon in the state,” he said. Two groups representing the fishermen in the other two districts affected by the lawsuit openly said they had been fine with state management and didn’t want to be involved — Concerned Area M Fishermen and the Cordova District Fishermen United. Huebsch said UCIDA didn’t want the other groups to have to be dragged into it, either, but it was part of the process. The Concerned Area M Fishermen are catching up with the process now that they’ve been pulled into it, but don’t want much to change, said Steve Brown, the president of Concerned Area M Fishermen. “Our perspective is that the state is the proper management for the fishery,” he said. Federal management comes with other requirements such as vessel observers, who watch commercial fishery bycatch. Electronic monitoring systems for bycatch are in the works, but for now, most observers are still people stationed on boats. Huebsch said the Cook Inlet fishery had had observers before and could accommodate them, but the Prince William Sound fishermen would be very inconvenienced, said Jerry McCune, the president of Cordova District Fishermen United. “It’s going to be very disruptive for our fleet,” he said. “…We want out of this FMP. And how we do that, if we can get out of this and go to state management, we’d be happy.”

FISH FACTOR: Retail seafood sales up sharply led by wild choices

Seafood sales at American retail stores are on an upswing and should remain that way for the foreseeable future. Better yet — demand for fish captured wild in the U.S.A. showed the biggest gains of all. That’s good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 65 percent of wild-caught seafood to our nation’s supermarkets (95 percent for salmon!). A new survey by trade magazine Progressive Grocer showed that retail seafood sales rose nearly 40 percent over the past year, and 56 percent predicted an upturn in seafood sales this year. U.S. wild caught seafood topped the list for the highest demand increase by nearly 58 percent of retail respondents, especially products from Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. A breakdown of the 2017 Retail Seafood Review by Seafood Source showed that wild-caught seafood also was perceived as being of higher quality, and 53 percent said wild tastes better than farm raised goods. The review said Americans are buying less beef, chicken and pork due to health concerns, and issues linked to animal welfare and environmental impacts. Analysts at FoodDive said, “This gives retailers an excellent opportunity to grow the seafood category, but much work is needed in terms of advertising and consumer education to get customers to bite.” To lure more seafood shoppers, experts advised sellers to increase in-store signage and make smarter use of digital coupons and promotions. Workers behind the retail counters, they said, should be better trained about fish varieties, if it is wild or farmed, and how to prepare it. The Retail Seafood Review said that temporary price reductions were the most popular and effective form of promotion. Asked what they would like from seafood suppliers to help improve sales, respondents suggested “lower pricing on less popular fish to get people to try it.” Fast food fish flap Here’s a fun take on fast-food fish sandwiches with some biting feedback. Writers at BusinessInsider sampled seven sandwiches, with Arby’s “gummy” Crispy Fish “with no taste or joy” ranking last. Dairy Queen’s Alaska cod sandwich is described as “a fillet slicked by a spill of tartar sauce that would offend even the Exxon Valdez disaster.” Burger King’s fish sandwich is “gray and sad,” McDonald’s is “boring.” White Castle’s fish slider is crispy, but “bland and sorry looking.” Popeye’s Seafood Po’boy has “more breading than fish.” The winner? Wendy’s premium cod fillet that the Insiders said reminded them of an “honest to goodness fish fry.” Salmon center stage Any Alaskan will tell you they want to protect our wild stocks of salmon, but how to do that brings different perspectives. A Salmon Policy Forum in Juneau will advance the discussion, with a focus on the Alaska laws that protect salmon habitat. “This forum is not intended to push any agenda. It is educational and informational and a way to get ideas on the table and have a more in-depth conversation,” said Lindsey Bloom, manager of the Salmon Habitat Information Project for United Fishermen of Alaska, a forum co-sponsor. Panel discussions will include historians, scientists, managers, miners and hopefully, legislators. The forum is set for April 11 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Rockwell Ballroom. It is co-sponsored by the Center for Salmon and Society at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks, and Salmon Connect. Find more information on Facebook. Crew cash Fishermen can get cash back for their crew license fees — if they purchase them online. It’s the first year that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is providing the online opportunity to replace paper licenses being purchased from vendors. It’s more convenient for customers and switching from paper to eLicenses saves the state lots of cash. “If we were able to achieve 100 percent online sales for licenses, it would save the department a couple hundred thousand dollars. Even at 50 percent sales, it’s a big savings for us,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division in Juneau. Crew licenses are the latest addition to ADFG’s online store, which offers print-at-home options for nearly every Alaska fishing and hunting license and more. The department hopes to lure fishermen to the online store with 10 free crew license giveaways. “If you’re randomly selected the cost of the license will be refunded to you,” Bowers said, adding that the deadline is Oct. 6. Annual commercial crew licenses cost $60 for Alaska residents and $277 for non-residents. Seven day licenses cost $30 for both resident and non residents. Navy training correction The ordnance expected to be used during the Northern Edge 2017 exercises in the Gulf of Alaska are two Navy Destroyers and one replenishment ship. According to a March 27 message from the public affairs office at Alaskan Command, the ordnance is similar to what was used during Northern Edge 2015: 15 inert/non-explosive naval gun shells, approximately 2,100 small arms rounds, five signal flares, six floating targets and 250 active sonobuoys. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Coastal communities want Navy’s Gulf training moved to fall

The required permits are not yet in hand, but the U.S. Navy is moving full steam ahead on its plans to conduct war training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska for two weeks in early May. Meanwhile, nine coastal communities have so far signed resolutions asking the Navy to instead conduct its training between September and mid-March, times that are less sensitive to marine life. Several more communities have indicated they will do the same by month’s end. “It’s not that we don’t want the Navy to do their training; it’s the time and locations,” said Emily Stolarcyk, program director for the Eyak Preservation Council of Cordova. “The community resolutions say that we are the people who depend on commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing,” she added. “The Navy exercises are planned during the most important breeding and migratory periods for salmon, birds, whales and marine mammals. About 90 percent of the training area is designated as essential fish habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon. May is the worst time to be doing this.” In the 43 years that the Navy has conducted war games in the Gulf, only twice have they occurred in May (2007, 2008). The Northern Edge joint training exercises include nearly 6,000 military participants “on and above central Alaska ranges and the Gulf of Alaska” according to the Alaskan Command Office of Public Affairs at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. The Gulf portion includes an area from 12 miles off the Kenai Peninsula to 140 miles out. Live weapons will be used in and above the water, said Capt. Anastasia Wasem at a Cordova presentation. She could not reveal specifics, but said weapons will include exploding projectiles, sonars, small arms, machine guns and naval gun shells. Three Navy destroyers and a submarine will be on the water. No independent observers will be allowed to participate. The Navy does not yet have a required letter of authorization to proceed from the National Marine Fisheries Service, nor have they published a final record of decision. The paperwork is “forthcoming” according to Navy documents dated July 2016, the most recent updates describing the training exercises. The Eyak Preservation Council is sending letters to all Alaska fishing permit holders asking them to contact decision makers about moving the time of the Navy training. “It contains a letter for fishermen to sign and send to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski with an option to send a courtesy copy to the NMFS and Pacific Command,” Stolarcyk said. Last September, Murkowski wrote a strongly worded letter to the Secretary of the Navy stating that they needed to do a better job of involving local communities and “listening to stakeholders.” Sen. Dan Sullivan also has encouraged more direct engagement with Alaskans to “clear up some of the confusion and misinformation being circulated.” “As an Alaskan, Senator Sullivan understands the importance of our fisheries and our coastal communities, and would never support an exercise that he believed would adversely affect Alaska’s fish stocks or prevent fishermen from doing their jobs,” Sullivan’s office said in an email message. “The Senator will continue to encourage productive and science-based dialogue between the U.S. military and Alaska’s coastal communities.” Despite the non-committal responses, Stolarcyk remains hopeful that the congressional delegation and the Navy will hear the unified voice of coastal Alaskans. “This is the water that we depend upon at the time we depend on it most,” she said. “I am hopeful they can understand that it’s not just about what they need — it’s about including the needs of communities that depend on these waters for sustenance.” Learn more about the Northern Edge exercises here and at www.summerisforsalmon.org/ High prices for halibut Catches of Alaska halibut have picked up after wild weather got the fishery off to a slow start when it opened on March 11. Catches by March 24 topped 800,000 pounds from 137 landings with Sitka leading all ports, followed by Seward, Kodiak and Homer. The prized flats were fetching big prices, up 30 cents per pound on average, compared to the early weeks of the fishery last year. Halibut prices usually are broken into three weight categories. Kodiak prices were said to be fluctuating quite a bit with reports at $6.45 per pound for 10- to 20-pounders; $6.75 for 20 to 40s and $7 per pound for “40 ups.” Ports at Juneau and Homer were reporting a straight $7 per pound, and halibut deliveries in Southeast were paying fishermen $6.70, $6.90 and $7 per pound. Buyers weren’t beating down the doors, said several major buyers, and there are reports of halibut holdovers in cold storage. It remains to be seen if the prices will remain as high throughout the eight-month season. The best fish story comes from Southeast where halibut fishing is said to be “fantastic” and the fish are robust and big. One major buyer said nearly half of their halibut landings were in the most popular 20- to 40-pound weight class and just 31 percent were smaller sizes. Nearly 2,000 hook and line fishermen hold quota shares of Alaska halibut. Alaska’s share of the coast wide catch this year is just more than 18 million pounds. The Pacific halibut fishery remains open this year through November 7. Herring hauls Sitka Sound traditionally kicks off Alaska’s roe herring circuit and this year’s harvest is lining up to be a good one. The Sound was “boiling” with the most herring they had ever seen, said fishermen on the grounds. A three-hour and 20-minute opener on March 19 was followed by a 15-minute opener on the March 22, bringing the total catch to about half of the 14,647-ton quota. Fishermen were awaiting word of another opener while processors were hustling to handle the herring hauls. The female herring are valued by Asian buyers for their roe as a percentage of body weight, and the Sitka fish were averaging good roe counts of 11 to 12 percent. Fishermen averaged $250 per ton last year and market reports indicate a good chance of higher prices this season. A herring pound fishery could be the next to go near Craig and Klawok. Fishermen there can catch 349 tons this year and place them in enclosures that contain blades of kelp that hold the sticky herring spawn, prized by buyers. Kodiak’s herring season begins in mid-April, and the harvest is set at a conservative 1,645 tons. “We expect an increase in the herring biomass but it will be mostly younger, 3- to 5-year-old fish. Thus, the smaller quota,” said area manager James Jackson at the local Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. Alaska’s biggest herring fishery occurs in May at Togiak in Bristol Bay. The harvest this year is pegged at about 30,000 tons, based on “best guess-timates” by state managers. Money for herring management for all areas but Sitka Sound was zeroed out in the state budget two seasons ago. That has eliminated the sampling necessary to accurately gauge herring stock abundance and age classes. “For us the bigger impact is that we can’t produce a good forecast for Togiak herring because we didn’t do the sampling,” said regional manager Tim Sands at Dillingham. “The data gap will cycle through our whole population estimate. Togiak herring live more than 12 years, so even if we were to start sampling again this year, we’ll have that data gap for at least eight years.” Togiak fishermen in 2016 received just $100 per ton for their roe herring. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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