Fisheries

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

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 The fixed cap, under today’s halibut stock status, is both outdated and inequitable,” Wisniewski added.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

FISH FACTOR: North Pacific council set to convene in Homer

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

BBNC nets two fishing companies in one deal

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

FISH FACTOR: Second-best sockeye season highlights salmon harvest

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

FISH FACTOR: Dietary guidelines zero in on seafood

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Commercial Fisheries Division sorts out budget cuts

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

Ombudsman finds Board of Fisheries violated law on Upper Cook Inlet vote

First it was scheduled to be in Kenai. Then it was yanked back to Anchorage. Now, the location of the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting is up in the air again. The Alaska State Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against state agencies, found in a report released Sept. 3 that the Board of Fisheries violated the Open Meetings Act when the members voted this past January to reconsider the location for the 2020 meeting and that the manner in which the vote was taken called into question whether chair Reed Morisky and other members “acted in good faith.” The fix? They’ll vote on the location again at the upcoming work session from Oct. 23-24 in Anchorage. A confidential complaint was filed with the ombudsman’s office in May 2019, according to the report. A draft investigation was finished in July, and the Board of Fisheries responded on Aug. 15. “The Ombudsman recognizes that the decision to set a meeting location may be, in some circumstances, a purely ministerial action,” the report states. “However, in this instance, the Board itself has noted that ‘one of the most divisive issues it faces almost every year is not a regulatory subject, but rather where to hold the Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meeting.’ As such, the Board should exercise increased diligence to ensure that its decisions on this issue are beyond reproach, to include strict adherence to the Open Meetings Act.” In a response to the findings, Morisky wrote that the board will reconsider the location at the upcoming work session, when the board normally discusses locations for upcoming in-cycle meetings, and will issue notice in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. At the same time, the board will reconsider a policy previously passed that would formally set the Upper Cook Inlet meeting locations on a rotating schedule between Palmer/Wasilla, Anchorage and Kenai/Soldotna to “determine if it has any future viability,” Morisky wrote. “It is within the board’s purview to revoke a policy,” he wrote. The Upper Cook Inlet meeting location is a perpetual source of controversy. With nearly half the state’s population and large stakeholder groups in sport, commercial, subsistence and personal-use fisheries, the Cook Inlet basin is one of the most heavily fished areas in the state. The Board of Fisheries makes allocation and fisheries management decisions that are often controversial, and the Upper Cook Inlet meeting is the longest, lasting about two weeks. Stakeholders often have to travel to the location to participate in board proceedings. Kenai Peninsula residents have been asking for the Board of Fisheries to hold a meeting on the central Kenai Peninsula for at least a decade. The last time the board held a meeting there was in 1997; the meetings have been in Anchorage since. Stakeholders contend that it is more expensive and onerous for them to travel to Anchorage, where they have to pay for hotels and travel long distances through the mountains in the winter, than for Mat-Su and Anchorage residents, who can stay at home and attend the meetings. Board members have consistently voted to keep the meetings in Anchorage, citing the expense of holding it on the Kenai Peninsula or the neutrality of Anchorage as a meeting location. At the March 2018 meeting, board members voted 4-2 in favor of holding the 2020 in-cycle meeting in Soldotna and to adopt a proposed policy to rotate the meetings on a regular basis between the three major communities of the Cook Inlet basin. However, the following January at the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim in-cycle meeting, Morisky raised the issue again in the middle of the meeting and called a vote, which proceeded 4-3 in favor of moving the meeting back to Anchorage. The ombudsman’s report cites the lack of public notice on the debate at the January meeting as a major reason for the finding. “Despite the paucity of the notice given of the addition of the UCI Finfish meeting location to the January 2019 meeting, interested members of the public managed to learn of the change and travel more than 100 miles to attend,” the report states. “Then, the Board Chairperson by his own admission told representatives from the Kenai/Soldotna area that the matter wouldn’t be taken up — only to introduce the matter for a vote later the same day, after they had gone. “This not only violates the spirit and the letter of the Open Meetings Act, it brings into question whether the Board Chairperson and members acted in good faith.” The composition of the Board of Fisheries has changed since the January 2019 meeting. Former board member Robert Ruffner, who lives in Soldotna and advocated for the meeting to be held on the Kenai Peninsula, has been replaced, as has board member Al Cain, who proposed the policy that would rotate the meeting locations between the three communities. Former board member Orville Huntington has moved to the Board of Game as well. The governor has appointed three new members: Marit Carlson-Van Dort of Anchorage, John Wood of Willow and Gerard Godfrey of Eagle River. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Enthusiasm continues building for mariculture industry

Underwater and out of sight are the makings of a major Alaska industry with two anchor crops that clean the planet while pumping out lots of cash: shellfish and seaweed. Alaskans have now applied for more than 2,000 acres of new or expanding undersea farms, double the footprint from two years ago, ranging in size from 0.02 acres at Halibut Cove to nearly 300 acres at Craig. Nearly 60 percent of the newest applicants plan to grow kelp with the remainder growing a mix of kelp and/or Pacific oysters, said Cynthia Pring-Ham, aquatic farming coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which issues the permits. ADFG partners with the Department of Natural Resources which leases the tidal and submerged lands for farms. Currently in Alaska, 36 operators are producing primarily Pacific oysters in Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kachemak Bay. Their combined crops of about 2 million bivalves have sales topping $1.5 million from a mostly local customer base. It’s the faster growing seaweed that has spawned wider interest, especially from regions that aren’t as hospitable to growing shellfish. Alaska’s first kelp farm permits were issued in 2016 at Kodiak; 15,000 pounds of brown and sugar kelp was harvested in 2017 and sold to California food maker Blue Evolution for $10,000. Last year the Kodiak output jumped to 90,000 pounds worth more than $33,000. Now, besides kelp, 21 Alaska growers also have added dulce, nori and sea lettuce to their macroalgae or shellfish menus. It will go into a global commercial seaweed market that is projected to top $22 billion by 2024, with human consumption as the largest segment. The interest is quickly spreading to other Alaska regions. This year two kelp applications were submitted from Sand Point and queries have come from the Pribilof Islands, said Julie Decker, chair of a state mariculture task force created in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Walker to lay the foundation for “a $100 million industry in 20 years.” “People are calling from St. Paul and St. George in the Bering Sea. They are interested and want to know what they need to do to get started,” she said. “I can’t see a single downside to it,” said ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division Director Sam Rabung, who is also a task force member. Rabung, who began researching kelp in Japan in the 1980s and has worked in salmon enhancement and mariculture in Alaska for more than 35 years, called diversification into seaweed farming “the biggest change to the industry I’ve seen in the last five years.” It is getting legs for several reasons, he said. “It’s a really good fit with our existing fishery infrastructure. We have a blue workforce, an ocean workforce of fishing communities, vessels, fishermen, processors that in many cases get used in a kind of boom-and-bust manner. This gives an additional shoulder to a season,” he said. “The giant kelp that we’re focusing on in Alaska right now, the brown algae, can be used for everything from food to nutritional supplements to animal feed ingredients, biofuels, soil amendments and everything in between. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the uses of algae,” he added. Plus, growing seaweed benefits the planet. As the “trees” of coastal ecosystems, seaweeds pull massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, absorbing five times more than land-based plants. But planting the earth friendly kelp fronds in the fall and plucking them in the spring is the easy part. “What do you do when you harvest them? You need to have something in place to take the product and make use of it before you ever plant your seeded lines,” Rabung said. As the fledgling algae industry develops, the task force is advocating that some growers form clusters to “really get things going.” “Getting a larger number of farms concentrated around a hub to get the synergy to create that critical mass and reduce the cost of logistics, transports, and support services that the farms need,” Rabung explained. “We need it to become a company, an industry. That’s where the state will see its biggest benefit.” At least two Alaska processors, Ocean Beauty and Silver Bay Seafoods, are involved in the new industry and buyers want product. “They need to know there is enough steady volume to make sure it’s worthwhile,” Rabung said. An early obstacle for aspiring Alaska growers, Rabung said, is financing, although the state’s revolving loan fund has made its first loan for a kelp farm. He said another is “acceptability.” “The way our statutes are written aquatic farming is the lowest priority use of coastal waters,” he said. “When we review a farm permit, we’re looking at its compatibility with existing uses as one of the criteria, such as fisheries. We can’t put farms in places that are traditional seine hook-offs or troll drags or dive fisheries or subsistence harvest areas.” Applicants also must be aware of navigational hazards and marine mammal haul outs when they are siting their farms. An online, interactive GIS map showing site areas and other data for Alaska’s entire coastline is being compiled and will help provide more information. It also can be shared with state agencies to help speed up the permitting process which has a two year backlog. “We’re kind of victims of own success because for years we’ve been building a foundation and network of people all working in the same direction. “Now the industry is stepping up and submitting applications for new farms and it coincides with staff and budget reductions at DNR,” Decker said. She added that Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s administration is “enthusiastic” about the mariculture industry’s potential. “We’re getting really good interest and support,” Decker said, “All the pieces are in place to move forward.” Farmer training sessions will be held next year in Ketchikan, Sitka and Kodiak and perhaps other communities, Decker said. Pink salmon payout Applications should now be in the hands of Alaska salmon fishermen and processors hurt by the 2016 pink salmon fishery failure. National Marine Fisheries Service last month approved $56.3 million in relief funds at Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik, Lower Cook Inlet, South Alaska Peninsula, Southeast Alaska, and Yakutat. Funds are being distributed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Salmon permit holders who show losses from the pink bust will split $31.8 million based on average dockside values over even years from 2006 to 2014. Skippers are responsible for compiling data for their crews in applications that are due Oct. 31. The PSMFC will then distribute applications to crew members to apply for disaster payments through January 31, 2020. The relief funds should be in hand six to eight weeks after an application is accepted. Alaska processors also must apply by Oct. 31 to receive their share of $17.7 million in relief funds. Workers will be eligible for an equal share of 15 percent of an eligible processor’s total disaster payment. The funds also include $3.63 million for pink salmon research. Of that, $450,000 goes to Kodiak’s Kitoi Bay Hatchery for its Saltwater Marking Sampling project. The Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey will get $680,000 to help with pink salmon forecasting research. And $2.5 million will go to the Alaska Hatchery Research Project that since 2011 has studied interactions of hatchery and wild salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast. Details are still being worked out on distributing $2.4 million to municipalities that were affected by the pink crash. More trade taxes China will add an additional 10 percent tariff to imports of U.S. seafood products starting Sept. 1, bringing the total to 35 percent in the latest escalation in the trade war with President Donald Trump. Undercurrent News reports that frozen Alaska salmon, cod or pollock that go to China for processing into patties or portions and are then re-exported will remain exempt from the extra taxes. In total, the additional tariffs, not only on seafood, apply to $75 billion in imported goods. In response, Trump sent out a series of Twitter messages saying: “We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them. Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies home and making your products in the U.S.A.” Sales of U.S. seafood to China dropped 36 percent since the 25 percent tariff was imposed in July 2018 valued at $340 million. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Bristol Bay business boot camp set for September

Investment that comes from within, not from without, is the motivation behind a boot camp that will jump start and nurture businesses in communities throughout Bristol Bay. Through Sept. 15 locals with good ideas, start-ups or existing businesses across the region will compete to attend a three-day boot camp that provides in-depth business education, networking and advice. First, they must make the grade in a simple application process. The 10 or 12 who make that cut will go to the boot camp and be judged on business feasibility and contributions to their community. Three winners will receive up to $20,000 in grants for consulting and technical assistance. The business boosters include the Bristol Bay Native Corp., The Nature Conservancy of Alaska and the Bristol Bay Development Fund, a subsidiary of BBNC that is infusing $5 million of “nurture capital” into local businesses that benefit its nearly 10,000 shareholders. “Guided by our traditions, we also know that investing in the culture, education, and sustainable future of our communities pays off for all of us,” BBNC states on its website. The group has partnered with the Path to Prosperity, or P2P, program by Spruce Roots Inc., an arm of the Juneau-based Sealaska Corp. that focuses on business coaching, technical assistance and tailored loans. Over six years P2P has provided management training and mentoring to nearly 80 Southeast businesses. The Coppa ice cream shop in Juneau, for example, went on to win top honors at the Symphony of Seafood and jars of Barnacle Foods kelp salsa varieties are in stores throughout Alaska and nationwide. Path to Prosperity received the Silver Award for Excellence in Economic Development by the International Economic Development Council in 2015. “They provide assistance all along the way, even if you just want some feedback on your application. It only asks about six questions to see if your business concept has any legs,” said Doug Griffin, executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, or SWAMC, which represents the Bristol Bay region. “It’s all about the sustainability of small communities,” Griffin added. “It’s also a way to show entrepreneurial spirit in a community. If you see a small business startup and it’s successful, it gives something for the next generation. They see that if they want to stay in their community where jobs are so limited, they can make their own job by starting a business. It’s something they can take pride in. And it’s kind of the American way to be a small businessperson doing well.” Find more information at www.bbnc.net or contact Cindy Mittlestadt at (907) 265-7865 or [email protected] Fall fish board call The state Board of Fisheries is organizing its lineup for the upcoming meeting cycle through March that will include Lower and Upper Cook Inlet, Kodiak and statewide crab and supplemental issues. Anyone wanting consideration of a fish issue from any other regions can submit an Agenda Change Request, or ACR, through Aug. 26. “The board recognizes that some of the other subjects that are important but aren’t in cycle so this is an opportunity for the public to submit proposals for the board to review at its October work session,” said board Executive Director Glenn Haight. The agenda change requests must fall under one of three criteria to be considered. “If the request is for a fishery conservation purpose or reason, if it is to correct an error in regulation, or if it is to correct an effect on a fishery that was unforeseen when the regulation was adopted,” Haight explained, adding that the board avoids requests that deal with out of cycle allocation disputes The board will consider the agenda change requests at its work session, Oct. 23 and 24 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. The Alaska Board of Fisheries includes seven members who set policy for Alaska’s subsistence, commercial, sport, guided sport, and personal use fisheries, and management is based on their decisions. Bycatch watch Alaska fishery managers closely track everything that comes and goes over the rails on boats in the Gulf and Bering Sea, including halibut taken as bycatch. The National Marine Fisheries Service posts all the catch data by gear type, region and fishery in federal waters (three to 200 miles out), down to the name of the boats. A few months ago, that caught the attention of longtime fisherman turned broadcaster Jeff Lockwood, who has turned the bycatch numbers into weekly reports on KBBI in Homer, the nation’s top halibut port. “I thought this is kind of interesting. Everybody talks about and knows about halibut bycatch, but as fishermen none of us really knew what was going on,” Lockwood said. “When I saw this information was there and just a week or 10 days behind what’s actually happening, I decided to compile and organize it. With any kind of numbers like that they’re kind of buried and you have to put in some work to sift through it. A 2018 halibut catch summary by the International Pacific Halibut Commission showed that coastwide landings of Pacific halibut from California to the Bering Sea totaled 23.5 million pounds, a low for the last decade. Commercial fisheries took 61 percent of the halibut catch, recreational users took 19 percent and 3 percent went for subsistence. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries accounted for 16 percent of the total catch limit. Lockwood said he is concerned about the bycatch impacts on a fragile Pacific stock and he hopes his reports create more understanding, especially between dueling halibut users. “In Homer the halibut longliners and charter operators tend to get at each other’s throats over who’s taking all of the fish,” he said. “It’s sort of hey guys, stop fighting amongst yourselves and look at this other stuff going on.” The reports also list bycatch of chinook and other salmon and crabs. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Drought and dry conditions impacting salmon across state

This summer has been hot and dry in Alaska — so hot, in fact, that even the fish are feeling it. All over coastal Alaska, temperatures have hovered significantly greater than normal. The state began sweltering in mid-June and crested on July 4, with Anchorage hitting 90 degrees Fahrenheit and Bethel reaching 91. The bright, sunny days brought Alaskans out to swim and recreate, but they also left the waters where salmon were returning exposed to the direct, unforgiving heat. Shallower lakes and rivers across Southcentral and Southeast Alaska were the first to heat up. In the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, lakes like Larsen and Judd, where the Alaska Department of Fish and Game operates weirs for sockeye salmon, reached 80 degrees. The Kuskokwim River in western Alaska registered water temperatures about 10 degrees greater than normal, likely contributing to a reported salmon die-off as the fish headed upstream. On the lower Kenai Peninsula, the Anchor River hit its warmest temperature on record on July 7: 73 degrees. It’s dropped since then to about 66.2 degrees, but the spike was troubling, said Sue Mauger, a scientist with Homer-based conservation nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper. The lack of rain has contributed to the temperature increases too. “I think (the snow) melted out fast,” she said. “It takes a really long time for that volume of water (after a rain event) to warm up again … a rain event can be really significant in these streams.” Mauger runs a network of stream temperature monitors on 48 creeks around the Cook Inlet watershed through Cook Inletkeeper. Of the four streams she monitors in real time — the Anchor, the Russian River, the Deshka River and Crooked Creek, near the Kasilof River — all have been above normal temperatures except for the Russian River. Though the Russian is a clear water river, it’s likely buffered by its connection to two large, deep lakes at higher elevations near Cooper Landing. The Deshka’s elevated temperature — more than 81 degrees Fahrenheit on July 7 — was troubling to more than just people. July is normally the height of the king salmon return to the Deshka, but from July 1 to 9, a total of 13 individual king salmon passed the weir, according to Fish and Game. Numbers increased afterward, with nearly 2,000 passing from July 11 to 17, but soon plummeted again. ADFG has also closed fishing for silvers on the Deshka and Little Susitna rivers until the end of September. “As soon as the temperature dropped a little bit, hundreds were coming in,” she said. “Clearly, we are seeing the behavior of holding in cooler water.” In Prince William Sound, managers reported having slow escapements of pink salmon but reports of large aggregations of fish milling in the salt water, which made it difficult to plan fishing periods, as the management systems are based on inriver escapement. Prince William Sound does not currently have any offshore test fisheries to gauge salmon return indices in the marine waters for fishing periods, so managers and fishermen were stuck waiting for salmon to be ready to head up the creeks. The one exception has been glacially fed creeks. Not only are water levels relatively normal or high on glacial river systems, their temperatures are also closer to normal. The Copper River experienced record water levels on both ends of the spectrum this year — it was the lowest recorded level ever when Fish and Game put in the sonar in the spring and it hit its highest level ever later in the year — but the temperature has been relatively closer to normal, said Stormy Haught, a research biologist with the Fish and Game commercial division in Cordova. “Any glacial streams are doing much better than groundwater, rainfall streams,” he said. “Part of it is snowpack; we’ve had a lot of hot weather so there’s just not a lot of source for these streams. Copper River has been high and doesn’t seem like any major temperature anomalies this year.” The groundwater and snow-fed systems are low, and some are simply drying up. In Prince William Sound, dewatering is relatively normal for some systems; on Montague and Hinchinbrook islands, some short streams can dry up even in wet years, Haught said. However, even normally stable creeks are experiencing extremely low water levels. In Southeast, the Stikine River’s most recent discharge level was below the 25th percentile, according to the U.S. Geological Survey; the Situk River near Yakutat is below its lowest recorded discharge level, as of Monday. Most of Southcentral and Southeast Alaska are officially in drought stages, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System. About 21 percent of the state is abnormally dry, but not officially in a drought, while some areas in southern Southeast are in extreme drought as rain continues not to fall. In Cordova, a city that usually receives about a dozen inches of rain even in the summer months, public works officials have been urging people not to water their lawns, wash their cars or water down the dust on the dry roads. Public Works Director Samantha Greenwood said it’s a game of trying to keep up with the salmon processing plants, which are now receiving some of their largest deliveries of pink salmon all year. The processors can use millions of gallons of water per day to keep up with operations, and the city can only process so much a day. “I send an email to the processors, who’ve been great at trying to turn water off whenever they can,” she said. As of Aug. 19, fishermen in Prince William Sound had harvested about 30.2 million pink salmon in one of their strongest weekly harvests so far this season. But as the sun continues to shine, Cordova’s reservoirs are dropping now, unable to be recharged by lakewater. The city’s website asks residents to conserve water as much as possible. Upstream, with the low water levels and high temperatures, salmon may be entering a difficult environment. In Bristol Bay, salmon die-offs were reported in the Igushik River in June, likely due to hypoxic conditions as salmon packed into the river and would not pass upstream through pocket of warm water. As more salmon pack into less water, they deplete the oxygen supply and can suffocate. Because pink salmon tend to spawn low in the river systems or in the intertidal zone, they may do fine in Prince William Sound, Haught said. “The beauty of salmon is that they have these (variable) life histories, and that’s what helps them survive these environmental events,” he said. “That said, yeah, it’s fairly ugly out there. A fish can’t swim into a stream if there’s no water.” Mauger said it’s hard to know if salmon will have spawning success, even if they were counted on weirs — there may have been enough water downstream, but maybe the spawning grounds were cut off or too shallow. The low water levels are also leaving gravel bars — prime salmon spawning habitat — high and dry, she said. And if the water levels continue to drop after salmon have laid their eggs, exposed eggs will dry out and die as well. Cook Inletkeeper produced projections for water temperatures in different case scenarios for climate change in 2004, projecting out to 2069. This summer saw the Deshka’s water temperature crest above what the models predicted would happen by 2069, Mauger said, putting the temperature increases 50 years ahead. “I think it’s important that people realize that this is the new reality of where we are and where we’re headed,” she said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Sockeye harvests wind down; pinks and chums slow going

As Alaska’s salmon fisheries transition away from sockeye and kings to pinks and chums, the harvest results so far look mixed. May, June and July are the main harvest months for sockeye salmon across Alaska, beginning in Prince William Sound and reaching a crescendo in Bristol Bay throughout July. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasted a total sockeye harvest of 41.7 million sockeye salmon for the 2019 season. Some sockeye are still being harvested, but as of Aug. 11, the count stood at 53.7 million sockeye, more than 43.1 million of which came from Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay’s harvest blows away even the large harvest from 2018 of 41.7 million, though it didn’t quite reach the all-time record. The Prince William Sound harvest is about 2.5 million sockeye, and the Cook Inlet harvest is about 1.9 million as of Aug. 13. The Kodiak harvest was about 1.64 million as of Aug. 13. While Prince William Sound’s sockeye harvest is close to its preseason forecast, Upper Cook Inlet fishermen are about 1.5 million fish shy of their preseason forecast of about 3 million sockeye. Constrained by low late-run king salmon returns to the Kenai River, managers closed setnet fishing in the Upper Subdistrict on the eastern shore of Cook Inlet on Aug. 5 and Aug. 8, with a possibility of reopening if king salmon escapements improve on the Kenai. The closure continued Aug. 12 for Upper Subdistrict setnetters. The drift fleet was scheduled to fish its normal period. “Kenai River late-run king salmon escapement will continue to be monitored on a daily basis and if escapement projections estimate the SEG (sustainable escapement goal) will be achieved, the Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishery may be reopened,” the closure announcement stated. The commercial closures to shield kings come at the cost of exceeding escapement goals in the Kenai River; as of Aug. 12, more than 1.7 million sockeye had passed the sonar in the Kenai, about 400,000 fish more than the upper end of the in-river goal and 500,000 fish more than the upper end of the sustainable escapement goal. The Kasilof River sonar has counted about 376,184 sockeye as of Aug. 11, greater than the upper end of the biological escapement goal for that river but still within the optimum escapement goal. And so far, pink and chum results across the state are tepid at best. The statewide preseason forecast predicted a rosy harvest of 137.8 million pinks and 29 million chum, which would have been a record chum harvest. Though pink harvest has been good in Kodiak so far — as of Aug. 13, fishermen there are on their way to the preseason forecast of 27 million with 14.4 million harvested so far — it hasn’t lived up to expectations in Prince William Sound yet. As of Aug. 12, only 17.6 million pinks had been harvested in Prince William Sound. At this point, nearly 25 million pinks would need to be harvested per statistical week through the end of the season to reach the forecast, and the odds of those numbers appearing are relatively low. Warm weather and drought conditions in Prince William Sound may be holding back escapements, though. Purse seine commercial fishery manager Charles Russell said the escapements of pink salmon into streams across the region have been delayed as fish shy away from the extremely warm water in creeks, waiting for temperatures to cool and rain to fall. “We were already in a drought scenario moving into the season, and that heatwave just exacerbated the situation,” he said. “In the low water and extremely warm water temps we were seeing around the sound, salmon were holding offshore. They didn’t have any urge to move into stream mouths like they typically do. It’s delayed the fisheries here. Obviously, we manage on escapement in streams, and if we don’t get escapement in streams, it’s hard to justify a fishery.” Catches are improving, though, after a slow start. The aquaculture associations have met their cost recovery goals and escapements are catching up, Russell said. However, with underperformance from the Solomon Gulch Hatchery — the run is estimated to finish at about 10 million to 12 million pinks as opposed to the 20 million forecasted — it seems unlikely that the area will reach its preseason forecast of 64 million fish, he said. Chum runs look likely to disappoint, too. Southeast Alaska’s salmon hatcheries had collectively projected about 10 million chum salmon to be harvested in that area, courtesy of a large parent year return. However, that run has yet to materialize, and at this point seems unlikely. As of Aug. 9, commercial fishermen had harvested about 2.5 million chum. “Based on our harvest so far, it looks like we’re going to have one of the lower harvests since the program for chum salmon began,” said Andrew Piston, a research biologist with Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries in Ketchikan. “Over the last decade, (the chum harvest) averaged about 10 million, and the way things are shaping up, we’ll be lucky to get about half that.” It’s hard to say what happened to the chum salmon that were predicted to come back this year. The forecasts for chum are produced by the hatcheries, which collectively produce about 90 percent of the chum harvested in Southeast Alaska. The wild stocks are returning in decent numbers, but the hatcheries are having trouble harvesting enough chum, Piston said. Southeast is about on track to meet its forecasted pink salmon harvest, Piston said, but that wasn’t high to begin with — about 18 million pinks total. There has been very little opportunity in northern Southeast, which is divided roughly at Sumner Strait near Wrangell, but southern Southeast has harvested about 9 million pinks as of Aug. 12. The low abundance of hatchery chums wouldn’t change ADFG managers’ fishing strategies for the commercial fleet, Piston said; as long as the wild stocks are meeting their goals, they’ll continue to fish as normal. “We wouldn’t not let our fishermen fish on wild stocks because there aren’t enough hatchery fish,” he said. Though it’s struggling for pinks so far, Prince William Sound is doing just fine for chum salmon — about 82 percent greater than last year’s catch, and above the preseason forecast of about 2.8 million. As of Aug. 13, just shy of 5 million chums had been harvested in Prince William Sound, according to ADFG. Russell said the hatcheries were expecting a good harvest this year based on past returns, and the same pattern played out with chums as with pinks — many fish were caught milling around in the sound. As of Aug. 12, fishermen across the state had harvested just more than 120.7 million salmon. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Some Chamber members oppose policies, but admit lack of engagement

The Alaska Chamber touts itself as “the voice of Alaska business” but seafood industry and coastal community members are largely left out of the conversation. The chamber isn’t entirely at fault; it appears that most of those members are not speaking up. Three cases in point. In February the chamber was one of the first to “applaud Governor Dunleavy for proposing a spending plan that matches current revenues.” In April the chamber testified in support of the Pebble mine draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, “in the name of due process.” (The Pebble Partnership is a chamber member.) The chamber’s top federal priority is to “support oil and gas exploration and development in Alaska’s federal areas including the Outer Continental Shelf, National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, Cook Inlet, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” But just about every Alaska coastal community strongly opposed Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget; likewise, they spoke out strongly against President Donald Trump’s administration plans for oil and gas development in Alaska’s offshore waters, and nearly all fishing interests have protested what they perceive as sloppy and biased science in the Pebble DEIS. In a canvassing of nearly 25 coastal chamber members and trade groups, not one said they were aware of those policy positions nor were they queried (including at Bristol Bay). “No, we were not contacted, period,” said Clay Koplin, Cordova mayor and chamber member. “We disagree with the state chamber’s executive committee or whoever formulated that. Granted, we seldom attend meetings,” he added. Ditto Kodiak Chamber Executive Director Sarah Phillips. “Our current membership with the Alaska Chamber of Commerce does not reflect agreement or alignment on political issues,” Phillips said. “I find it very unsettling,” said a spokesman for the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association which represents six remote communities. “We were not contacted by the chamber regarding the formation of its legislative priorities and policy positions,” said Doug Griffin, executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal League, which serves the Aleutian/Pribilofs, Bristol Bay and Kodiak. “SWAMC is not a very active member and I have not attended any annual meetings. I do not think we would have much impact, but perhaps we could at least provide a dissent on some of its positions. I think many of the chamber’s positions are misguided,” he added. “No contact” also was the response of chamber members Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, United Fishermen of Alaska, Pacific Seafood Processors Association and At-Sea Processors Association, which commented that, “we do get minutes and position papers regularly with opportunity to provide input.” Alaska Chamber CEO Kati Capozzi was surprised at the responses and said the way in which positions and priorities are determined is “quite possibly the most democratic, egalitarian process of any statewide association that I’m aware of.” Every year an email goes out to all members in good standing advising them that the process is open and “it is the opportunity to have your voice heard,” she explained. Each fall, members gather at a policy forum to propose positions for the upcoming year. Based on submitted proposals, chamber members adopt positions on issues that impact Alaska’s economy and the board of directors select the top state and federal priorities. “Every position makes it to our membership at our policy forum,” Capozzi added. “You must be present to vote, but that’s when any member can vote to adopt a position or not. No matter how big or small a business is, it’s one member, one vote. Then we notify all members afterward and tell them what we will be championing for the next year. It’s really a unique process that helps us have a lot of credibility as we move to advocate for the positions that our membership has voted on.” For actions that fall outside of the fall voting time frame (such as the governor’s February budget debut and the window for commenting on the Pebble DEIS), Capozzi said the adopted positions provide a “blueprint that serves as my guiding light for the next year.” “Our February press release applauding the budget directly related to our top state priority to support reduction of spending to sustainable levels. We did not and will not come out in support or opposition to the Pebble project but we are constant advocates for due process,” she explained, adding that “I think that the positions that we come up with are very representative of the overall business community concerns. I don’t know how we can be more inclusive with our process, but a good point is being more communicative with the statements and positions we do come out with.” The Alaska Chamber claims it has “700+ members representing 100,000 employees and 30+ local chambers.” Associations, non-profits and businesses with annual gross revenues less than $1 million pay a $500 annual membership fee; others pay from $800 to $7,200 based on gross revenues. The seafood industry represents only about 1 percent of the membership and Capozzi said she would “love, love to see that number grow.” “I have strong relationships within that community and I hope to get as many of those friends in the industry more involved because the more involvement we have from the business community, the more diverse and better off our positions will be. I believe that firmly,” she added. Chamber members can submit their positions and priorities preferences through Sept. 6. The fall meeting, where attendees will vote, is set for Oct. 28-30 in Girdwood. Best fish messages Alaska’s seafood marketing messages are resonating with consumers and it’s helping to home in on how to persuade them to buy and eat more. “What we know now is that the consumer not only wants a product that is good for them, but good for the planet,” said Michael Kohan, technical program director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI pinned down that message from a Technomics Foodservice research survey that revealed that 35 percent of consumers are eating more seafood. “When we asked those consumers why, they actually identified aspects of Alaska’s seafood aspects or attributes found in our tag lines — wild, natural and sustainable,” she said at an Accelerate Alaska conference. “Wild” resonates in terms of quality, and “natural” was seen in Alaska’s pristine environment. Consumers said they want to be able to choose a pure source of protein as part of a healthier diet. “Sustainable” definitions vary by person and region, Kohan said, but origins and jobs are highly valued. “The U.S. consumers thought knowing where seafood comes from was important as well as by purchasing seafood they were supporting American jobs,” she said. Kohan added that ASMI believes the already winning “wild, natural and good for the planet messages” give Alaska seafood an advantage in world markets. They will build on the quality, nutrition and sustainability themes and “personalize” outreach by telling people why Alaska seafood is good for them and what body parts get the most benefit. She said that ASMI is becoming more involved in research that applies Alaska seafood to nutrition and healing. “For instance, ASMI is working with the industry to understand if omega 3 content found from DHA and EPA fatty acids in Alaska wild salmon is important or can affect the pain that is triggered by inflammation for breast cancer survivors,” Kohan said. ASMI also is striving to make full utilization of seafood a part of Alaska’s sustainability message by expanding markets for fish “specialty” products to pet food, nutraceutical and medical industries. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Mexico becomes top US trade partner one year into China conflict

It’s been one year, so how’s that trade war with China working out for the nation’s seafood industry? As with farmers, there’s not much winning and ongoing tweeted skirmishes have global fish markets skittish. The quick take is the 25 percent retaliatory tariff imposed by China on U.S. imports last July caused a 36 percent drop in U.S. seafood sales, valued at $340 million, according to an in-depth analysis of Chinese customs data by Undercurrent News. “Chinese imports of US seafood fell from $1.3 billion in the 12 months prior to tariffs (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018), to $969 million in the 12 months after (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019), underlining the heavy impact of weaker demand for U.S. seafood subject to tariffs, while poor catch of U.S. wild-caught seafood was also to blame,” the News wrote. Until then, China had been Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer purchasing 54 percent of seafood exports in 2017 valued at close to $1 billion. The tit for tat taxes hit nearly all Alaska seafood; exempted were millions of pounds of frozen Alaska pink and chum salmon and cod that are sent to China for processing into fillets or portions and exported back to the US and other countries. Those numbers took a big slide. Over the past year, China imported $136 million of Pacific salmon, down 56 percent, and reflecting a 62 percent drop in volume. Imports of frozen cod decreased to 53 million pounds valued at $91 million, both down 37 percent. The 25 percent tax also pushed the U.S. from China’s second largest seafood supplier to fourth place, behind Russia, Ecuador and Canada. The trade uncertainties have had a downward press on many fish prices and forced Alaska salmon buyers into a more “conservative mode,” especially with pink and chum salmon, said a major Alaska processor. “The tariffs are not on but they are not off. Could they be on tomorrow or never hit? The threat is always out there,” he said. Meanwhile, China is turning away from the U.S. market, and selling products to Europe in direct competition with American producers, said John Sackton, market expert and publisher of SeafoodNews.com. “Products that China is not shipping to the U.S. due to the trade war are going elsewhere, and where they compete directly with U.S. products, it means U.S. exporters face a more competitive situation,” he said, adding that American brands will suffer. “To the extent buying American in China becomes unpatriotic, the Chinese will begin to shun U.S. seafood products and actively seek out other sources, such as Norway, Ecuador, and Russia,” Sackton said. “In my view, the greatest long term danger from the trade war is that it could lead to a generation of Chinese who look down on American products.” Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said he believes the escalating trade wars are the seafood industry’s biggest challenge. “In talking with processors, they are uncertain as to the economic viability of delivering their products and getting them onto the shelves of their consumers,” Vincent-Lang said. “When I took this job I understood how we managed our fisheries but I didn’t really have a good appreciation of that dance between how we manage our fisheries in the context of the global economy and world markets.” Meanwhile, President Donald Trump tweeted that beginning Sept. 1 the U.S. will impose a 10 percent tariff on the remaining $300 billion in goods the U.S. imports from China which will include more seafood. The Wall Street Journal reports that: “The total value of bilateral goods traded with China, $271 billion in the first half of the year, fell short of that with both Canada and Mexico for the first time since 2005. Mexico is now the U.S.’s top trading partner.” Fish trade assist As the federal government prepares to roll out $16 billion to help farmers caught in the cross fire of Trump’s trade wars, Democratic congressmen want fishermen included in the deal. Currently, fishermen and seafood producers are not eligible to apply for US Department of Agriculture trade assistance programs. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton filed legislation in late June to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act to enable the federal government to expand the scope of fishery disasters to include trade disputes. Alaska and Maine’s congressional delegations also wrote separate letters to the Trump administration asking it to provide the same relief for fishermen that has been created to help farmers hurt by tariffs. Salmon prices Icicle Seafoods was the first buyer at Bristol Bay to post base prices for sockeye at $1.35 per pound, up from the average $1.26 last year, and 40 cents per pound for chums, an increase of four cents. KDLG in Dillingham reported that Icicle also is paying 15-cent bonuses for iced or refrigerated seawater fish for both drift and setnetters, plus 8 cents more for chilled/bled, and a five-cent premium for floated fish. All told, that’s $1.63 per pound for sockeyes at Bristol Bay. Alaska General Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods and Peter Pan at Bristol Bay also have posted a sockeye base of $1.35. Kodiak base prices have taken a dip with reports of $1.45 for sockeyes, 27 cents for pinks and 25 cents for chums. That compares to last year averages of $1.56, 39 cents and 51 cents, respectively. At Cook Inlet, sockeye prices were reported at $1.70, down from $2.27. Southeast Alaska trollers were averaging $5.13 a pound for chinook, $1.56 for coho and 61 cents for chums, according to fish tickets. Prices for seine and driftnet-caught salmon were reported at 55 cents for chums, down from 90 cents, sockeyes at $1.90, a drop of six cents, and 30 centsfor pinks, down from 38 cents per pound on average last year. At Norton Sound, chum prices at 50 cents were down from 80 cents and coho at $1.40 was the same as last year. Average Alaska salmon prices per pound across all regions for 2018 were: chinook, $5.98; sockeye, $1.33; coho, $1.34; chum, 78 cents; pink, 45 cents. Prices do not include bonuses. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

ADFG left out of ‘reverse sweep’; Catch 49 ups offerings

As Alaska lawmakers continue their struggle to keep the state afloat, the Commercial Fisheries Division dodged a bullet that would have removed millions of dollars from its budget. An obscure procedural action within the capital budget called a “reverse sweep” prevents dozens of program-specific pots of money from being automatically drained into the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which happened this year after House Republicans would not provide the 30 votes needed to execute the move. “The sweep is money that is not spent in a single year. In this case, it comes from certain sources, such as test fish receipts, commercial crew licenses and sale of Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permits and licenses,” explained Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. “There is usually unexpended funds within the budget that typically carry over by the reverse sweep into next year’s budget, and they are integrated into the department’s operational budget as there is an expectation those moneys will be available.” There was a lot of confusion about what the sweeps swept up, he added. “From the ADFG perspective, there was an initial document that showed all of those different pots of money are sweepable. However, we have since learned that the actual budget that was signed by the governor and passed by the legislature included language that makes the test fish receipts, crew member licenses and the CFEC licenses non-sweepable.” Money from test fish receipts comes from sampling salmon or other species that are caught by the state to gauge run strength and collect other biological data and then are sold. Crew license sales and CFEC dollars from permits, vessel licenses and other fees go into separate savings accounts; more comes from General Fund program receipts, primarily from crew license sales. “The test fishing receipts are on the order of $2.5 million, crew licenses bring in $2.5 to $3 million and those are built into our management program for the next year,” Vincent-Lang said. “We use them for doing things like crab and shellfish management to herring management, conducting aerial surveys and running weirs and sonar operations.” Vincent-Lang said the Commercial Fisheries Division is working out the details of a nearly $1 million dollar budget cut, which he calls “not life threatening.” “There’s going to be impacts on some weir operations and sonar operations, but we we’ll be able to manage around them,” he said, adding that things would have been far worse if the test fishing and license receipts were swept away. “Not all of that would’ve been spent in a single year, but it would have meant somewhere on the order of $2.5 to $4 million worth of unexpected budget impacts to the division of commercial fisheries,” Vincent-Lang said. The approved fiscal year 2020 budget for the commercial fisheries division is about $71 million, of which $52 million is from general funds. Catch 49 grows fish sales The Catch 49 program that delivers locally caught seafood to Alaskans across the state has expanded its 900 customers to include a growing wholesale base and a retail store. Princess Holland America lodges in Denali are now one of its biggest buyers for jig caught rockfish and Tanner crab from Kodiak. The Bridge Restaurant in Anchorage and the Muse Restaurant at the Anchorage Museum are clients, as is North Star Quality Meats, the protein supplier for all of the AC stores in rural Alaska. “We are really proud to be one of the first people to supply Alaska caught seafood to those rural communities. It’s kind of shocking they weren’t getting that before, but we’re happy to be filling that gap,” said, Katy Rexford, director of Catch 49, which is an arm of the non-profit Alaska Marine Conservation Council. It’s the eighth year for the “boat to table” program described as a community supported fishery. Customers pre-order their seafood favorites in advance and pick it up at distribution hubs across the state a few weeks later. Up to 15 boats fish for Catch 49 products now, Rexford said, and they are always on the lookout for more fishermen across the state. The group offers sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay and Copper River, halibut, Tanner crab, king crab from Norton Sound, Kodiak rockfish, shrimp from Prince William Sound, octopus, sablefish, smoked products and “just about anything you can pull out of the water.” Rexford said when the seafood arrives at the various distribution centers, it’s like “fishmas!” “I get to hand customers these big beautiful bags of gorgeous fillets or shrimp and people are so happy to be able to buy the best seafood in the world and to know they are supporting fishing families and the fishing way of life in our small Alaska coastal communities,” she said. “One hundred percent of our proceeds is supporting policy work and conservation programs that buoy our fisheries and keep them sustainable and productive for generations to come.” Catch 49 summer orders are being taken through Aug. 5 at www.catch49.org; drop offs will take place a few days later in Fairbanks, Seward, Homer and the Mat-Su Valley. Anchorage customers can now pick up seafood every Thursday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at a new retail location at 636 E. 15th Avenue. “Instead of four or five times a year, people in the Anchorage area can now order seafood year round. We’re trying to position ourselves as a more regular source of sustainable seafood,” Rexford said, adding that Catch 49 hopes to expand the opportunity to other regions. Fraser salmon stuck There could be fewer wild salmon from British Columbia competing with Alaska this year due to a rockslide 250 miles up the Fraser River that is keeping the fish from their spawning grounds. “All that rock on top of that face has fallen into the river which is confining passage for fish. I’ve never seen anything to this degree on this side of the river,” Dale Mickey, a manager with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told CTV News Vancouver. Nearly 80 percent of the sockeye runs from eight tributaries head up the Fraser River, which this year is expected to be 3.5 million fish. A run of 180,000 reds a day is starting to arrive and a sense of urgency has rescuers resorting to a temporary solution: flying the fish upriver by helicopter. Crews have begun air-lifting the fish from a holding pond below the rockslide where the sockeyes are netted, tagged and put in oxygenated aluminum tanks for transport and release upriver. They also are working nearly round the clock to secure the canyon and create a “natural fishway” using artificial salmon ladders inserted into the river. Another assist could come from pressurized tubes called fish cannons created by Seattle-based Whooshh Innovations. The cannons literally shoot the fish up and over dams or other obstructions blocking their migrations. Company CEO Vince Bryan said results have shown that the cannons provide far less stress on the fish than other transports, like trucks and helicopters. “People have asked us how we know it’s okay for the fish, and we tell them because when they come out of the tube, they turn their heads and look back at us waving their tail and saying thanks,” he said in a phone interview. “In all seriousness, studies we did on the fish cortisol (stress) levels as they were going into the tube were not raised.” Cohos will arrive later and the Fraser produces more chinook salmon than all the rivers of Puget Sound combined. Canada’s provincial and federal governments say they will do everything possible to make sure the salmon are able to reach their spawning grounds. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Kenai River sockeye push liberalizes bag limits; commercial catches rise

SOLDOTNA — After a slow start to their season, things are looking up for Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen. Total salmon landings reached 1.4 million after the July 29 fishing period, with more than 1.1 million sockeye so far. The majority of those landings have come from the Central District drift gillnet fleet and east side setnets, with setnetters on the west side, Kalgin Island and in the Northern district bringing in about 150,000 salmon between them, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It’s hard to say whether the forecast of 6 million sockeye across all the systems of Upper Cook Inlet will materialize yet, but it’s definitely looking better than it was a few weeks ago, when Upper Cook Inlet fishermen were lagging significantly behind even their 2018 catch by this date. Last year was one of the worst years in recent memory for sockeye harvest for fishermen across the Gulf of Alaska, Cook Inlet included. On July 26, fisheries managers in Soldotna estimated that the Kenai River run is 2 to 4 days later than usual, but that it will likely be greater than 2.3 million. That’s on track with the preseason forecast of about 3 million. That’s much more on time than last year, when the run turned out to be at least a week later than usual. Even a run four to five days late can significantly interrupt fishing management plans in Upper Cook Inlet, where the interlocking user groups and their management plans keep operations fairly tight. The Kasilof River, about 12 miles to the south of the Kenai, is getting close to the upper end of its own escapement goal of 340,000 sockeye. As of July 29, 306,812 sockeye had passed on the sonar on that river. Commercial area management biologist Brian Marston said the managers will likely start opening up more hours in the Kasilof area to help control that escapement, with an eye toward not having to open the Kasilof Special Harvest Area. “We have several steps that we’re supposed to take before that, which is to use more hours than the management plans normally allow and also to not adhere to the (mandatory closure) windows,” he said. “The SHA is a last resort. The management plans actually state that you shall do extra hours and step on the windows before you do the SHA. Although it’s a good idea, it doesn’t function to really stop the river that well.” The SHA is a constrained terminal harvest area around the mouth of the Kasilof River, functioning as a last effort to control escapement to that river. Because of the tidal flats and constrained area, it’s relatively hard to fish. During the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting, the board members took several steps to help managers avoid having to use the SHA to control escapement, including expanding opportunities for the use of the 600-foot setnet fishery along the nearby beaches. The Kenai River is already within its sustainable escapement goal range, and as of Monday was within the inriver goal range of 1 million to1.3 million sockeye. The sustainable escapement goal is set for spawning; the in-river goal is designed to account for sportfishing harvest. Now it’s a game of controlling escapement to not exceed the upper end of the escapement goal using the commercial and sport fisheries. But one confounding factor is the king salmon run there. The kings are still returning to the Kenai, but only 8,615 large kings had passed the sonar as of July 29. The lower end of the escapement goal for late-run kings is 13,500. In trying to protect kings, the commercial area managers are somewhat hamstrung when trying to open setnets to harvest sockeye salmon in the Kenai River area. After Aug. 1, the managers get more hours as the restrictions on commercial fishing hours through the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan are lifted, Marston said. “As soon as we get out of the king plan at the end of the month, we have to still pay attention to the escapement of king salmon,” he said. The Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery closes on July 31 at 11:59 p.m. as well. Sport anglers will keep fishing, and ADFG sport fishing managers doubled the bag and possession limits to six per day with 12 in possession for the Kenai River downstream of Skilak Lake effective Sunday. They also increased the bag limits for sockeye in the Kasilof River Effective July 24 to six per day with 12 in possession. The personal-use dipnet fishery there will continue as well until Aug. 7. Pink and coho salmon are starting to show up as well, though this year is set to be a relatively weak pink year, as odd-numbered years are in Upper Cook Inlet. As of July 29, commercial fishermen had landed 83,307 coho salmon across Upper Cook Inlet, and though there are no escapement goals for coho salmon south of the Deshka River, Marston said there were signs the run could be strong this year. The Deshka River weir has counted 826 coho salmon as of July 29, ahead of last year on the same date. The northern streams are on target for their coho runs so far, and strong numbers have been showing up at Fish and Game’s weirs since the rain began last week. The run could still turn out to be unexceptional, as coho didn’t show up strongly in the test fishery numbers, but it could also be another excellent year, he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Bristol Bay sockeye harvest blowing away forecast once again

Bristol Bay is approaching the record for sockeye salmon harvest once again. As of July 21, fishermen in Bristol Bay’s five districts had harvested just more than 42 million salmon. More than 41.5 million of those were sockeye, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; that’s already more than the 41.3 million sockeye harvested in 2018, the second-largest harvest on record. The largest harvest on record, which occurred in 1995, still stands at 44.2 million sockeye. The total return so far is about 53.6 million sockeye, significantly fewer than the record-breaking run of 62.3 million fish last year but already beyond the upper end of the preseason forecast range of 27.9 million to 52.4 million. Fishermen in the Nushagak district have been leading the area for total catch, but the Egegik isn’t far behind; both have topped 14 million sockeye. Bristol Bay west side area management biologist Tim Sands said he expects Egegik to catch the Nushagak area for total harvest soon. Fishermen in the Nushagak district, at least, have become more efficient in selecting their gear in recent years, which may be helping to boost the catch, he said. “The last two years we’ve had these really tremendous runs of two-ocean fish here in the Nushagak,” he said. “People probably saw fish going through their gear. I think there’s definitely been some learning going on.” So far, the processors in the region have been able to handle the landings without too much difficulty, he said. Fish are coming in relatively steadily, and with a reported price so far of $1.34 per pound on average, fishermen are poised to do fairly well this season again in Bristol Bay. However, there have also been some odd hallmarks to this season. June brought bright sunny days that led to skyrocketing water temperatures across Alaska, which can be bad news for salmon. Dead salmon have been reported floating in rivers in Norton Sound and in the Kuskokwim River. In Bristol Bay, warm water seems to be preventing salmon from moving upstream in at least one system: the Igushik River, a broad river on the western side of the Nushagak District. Sands said many systems across Alaska have seen salmon kills due to heat, including the Nushagak, but the Igushik in particular is having large numbers of them because warm water is blocking salmon from moving upstream. “The Igushik River itself is kind of an interesting river,” he said. “It’s really slow, a lot of tide and not a lot of flow. It’s more like a really long pond. Because of that, it’s much more susceptible to heating up. The warmer the water is, the less oxygen can dissolve in it. There’s a bunch of fish in the river holding, there’s less oxygen available.” Though other areas of Alaska aren’t quite having Bristol Bay’s luck for large sockeye returns, things aren’t going as poorly as last year. Prince William Sound fishermen have landed about 2.3 million sockeye as of July 21, with just shy of 1.2 million of those coming from the Copper River district. That’s about 300,000 fish more than the preseason point forecast of 955,000 fish. Fishermen in Prince William Sound are now shifting attention to pink salmon, which are forecasted to arrive in numbers close to 23 million between hatchery and wild production. Chignik has reported no landings so far this year, but that’s not because no fish are coming in; it’s because there aren’t enough processors in the area to require public disclosure of landing data. Dawn Wilburn, the area management biologist for salmon and herring in the Chignik Management Area, said the two processors taking fish in the Chignik area this year have not signed voluntary waivers for the disclosure of fish landing information, and by law, ADFG cannot disclose that data without them. There hasn’t been a lot of harvest yet anyway, she said. But the sockeye run does at least look better than last year, which brought a disastrously low run to Chignik and prompted a request for disaster support in the area. She said the Chignik River has not experienced the elevated temperatures other river systems in the state have, and there have been no fish die-offs reported there. “It’s a lot better than last year,” she said. “Our early run was pretty weak, and our late run is looking OK.” Things are still slow in Upper Cook Inlet, where fishermen are in the middle of their sockeye season. As of July 24, they’d harvested a total of 824,351 sockeye, about a quarter of the preseason forecast of 3 million sockeye. Sonar counts on the Kenai River are tracking ahead of 2018 and 2017 so far, with 525,936 sockeye having passed the counter as of July 24. The Kasilof River is tracking ahead of 2018, 2017 and 2016, according to ADFG sonar counts, with 238,463 fish having passed the counter as of July 22. Lower Cook Inlet should be ramping up soon, with pink salmon beginning to arrive in the various creeks and bays near Homer. Some of the creeks host sockeye and chum runs as well, with sockeye coming both from wild production and from the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association’s hatcheries. As of July 22, fishermen had harvested 194,476 sockeye — with 120,823 of those coming from the predominantly hatchery-produced run in Resurrection Bay — and 128,026 pink salmon. The forecast predicts about 2.4 million pinks to be available for commercial harvest district-wide. So far, ADFG hasn’t spotted any fish kills in aerial surveys of the Lower Cook Inlet streams, said Glenn Hollowell, the area management biologist for commercial salmon and herring fisheries in the area. Water temperatures may be a little cooler in the area due to cloud cover and smoke so far, he said. “I am concerned about warm water when they do show up and start moving into the rivers in big numbers,” Hollowell said. Resurrection Bay’s sockeye salmon run has actually significantly underperformed so far — though 120,823 sockeye have been harvested, that’s only about half what the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association projected it needed to harvest for cost recovery. The hatchery organization is still harvesting some fish at its Bear Lake weir, but those fish are not the same quality as the fish harvested in marine water and may not be able to be sold to the processor, said Dean Day, the executive director of CIAA. The organization tries to work around the recreational fishery in Resurrection Bay, which can hamper commercial fishermen as they try to harvest the sockeye for CIAA, Day said. ADFG raised the bag limit for sockeye in the Resurrection River this year from 6 to 12 per day because too many were making it upstream. He said CIAA may consider doing a creel survey on recreational fishermen in Resurrection Bay in the future to quantify how many fish are being taken in the sportfishery there, as the only data available now is the voluntary reporting ADFG collects in the annual Sport Fish Harvest Survey. “In the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to have a pretty good number on what we can estimate was our total return,” Day said. “But a huge unknown number is the fish harvested recreationally.” ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Locals keep share of fish taxes; new tech for cutting crab, salmon farms

One fisheries item that appears to have escaped Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s veto pen so far is his desire to divert local fish taxes from coastal communities into state coffers. Dunleavy’s initial budget in February aimed to repeal the sharing of fisheries business and landing taxes that towns and boroughs split 50/50 with the state. Instead, all of the tax revenues would have gone to the state’s general fund, or a loss of $28 million in fiscal year 2020 to fishing communities. “There is a recognition that these are viewed as shared resources, and they should be shared by Alaskans,” press secretary Matt Shuckerow said at the time. “So that’s kind of what this proposal does. It takes shared resources and shares them with all Alaskans, not just some select communities.” The tax split remains in place and the dollars are still destined for fishing towns, said rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who also represents Cordova, Yakutat and several smaller towns. “It’s general fund revenue and that has been appropriated to the appropriate communities,” Stutes said in a phone interview. “What we can tell right now is it slipped by unscathed because it appears he did not veto that revenue to the communities that generate the dollars. So, it looks like we’re good to go there.” What’s not so good is the nearly $1 million cut to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commercial fisheries budget. Stutes and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, worry that the shortfall could result in lost harvests. “It’s always short-sighted when you cut Fish and Game. It’s just really crucial that we have the personnel we need to manage our resources and to make sure they continue to be there when we need them,” Stevens told KMXT in Kodiak. Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, said it does not make sense to cut state money makers. “In the long run, that creates revenue for the state because it allows all these different fisheries to stay open longer,” she said, adding that lost oversight due to budget cuts will result in more conservative management. “If they do not have the personnel to do the appropriate salmon counts, they’re going to manage very conservatively. And that means less openings or they’ll close the season earlier,” Stutes said. “Those are dollars that the state’s not going to get by the governor vetoing those funds to Fish and Game. It just doesn’t make sense to me under any conditions.” All the amendments that the Alaska Legislature added back into the original ADFG budget were vetoed, including a $280,000 cut to special areas management, which include 12 game refuges, 17 critical habitat areas and three wildlife sanctuaries. Two director-level positions and associated funding from the Habitat and Subsistence Research Divisions will be moved to the Office of Management and Budget and no longer be associated with ADFG related duties. Impacts of the budget cuts were not readily available and all questions are referred to a new [email protected] address. The questions may be directed back to appropriate staff, but “they want everything to be through that address,” said one ADFG employee. “Welcome to our world,” said Stutes. “As a Legislature, we can’t get answers. We can’t speak to department heads. We get no response. We are required to go through the legislative liaison. I have never seen such a lack of communication between any department or between the legislature and the executive branch.” Robots cut crab Radio Canada reports that robotic machines that cut and shuck crab have nabbed a U.S. patent that is being hailed as a breakthrough in fish processing technology worldwide. The system, developed by the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation in Newfoundland, operates at lightning speed on crab at fish plants in eastern Canada. In a shipping container-sized chamber, crabs go down a conveyor belt where each is analyzed by cameras; then, “pick and place” robots saw off the legs, sort and package them and off they go. Along another belt, robots shuck the meat from the crabs, a job that would have been done in China. “Instead of sending all our crab out as sections with the meat in the shell we thought we could attract a higher price if we sold the meat instead,” said Bob Verge, the brains behind the crab robots and managing director at CCFI. While the crab cutting robots are designed for snow crab (Eastern Canada is the world’s largest producer), Verge said the system is adaptable to other crab species and potentially other shellfish. He added that interest is high, including from international markets who are interested in developing robotic solutions to other fish production problems. CCFI has applied for patents in 10 other countries and those are expected to be issued soon. The robot makers are hoping the system will help solve workforce problems in fish plants that often are located in remote regions where it’s tough to recruit enough workers. In this case, Verge said humans will work on more highly skilled machines and computers, and not on the slime line cutting up crab. “If we are going to attract the young people we need, we need better jobs, not more jobs. We have to offer them a better deal,” he said. “In demonstrating this technology to young people, they are very impressed with it.” Land ahoy! Since the 1990s, Alaska’s salmon industry has faced tough competition from farmed fish. Now salmon growers are coming ashore in the U.S. in a big way. The latest trend is raising Atlantic salmon in massive tanks on land, called recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS. “It really could be considered salmon aquaculture 2.0,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group. “The current model is the nearshore farms, and land based technology has really improved upon that. Obviously, there is no worry about interaction with wild stocks.” The closed loop systems, some holding two million gallons of water, also use no antibiotics, additives or pesticides, removing big negatives from fish that are farmed in crowded ocean net pens. The tank water, gotten mostly from deep wells, is filtered similar to an aquarium, and can be constantly reused. A non-stop current also provides exercise to enhance fish health and meat quality. Maine already has attracted two growers. Last month Nordic Aquafarms of Norway announced plans to build an RAS farm in Belfast that will eventually produce 70 million pounds of salmon each year. UK company Aquabanq also announced they will begin building a massive RAS facility in Millinocket next spring. Another Norwegian company — Atlantic Sapphire — is doubling its land purchase in Homestead, Fla., to 160 acres for a RAS facility that aims to grow 500 million pounds of salmon annually by 2030. Since 2017 a Wisconsin company called Superior Fresh has advanced the land-based fish tank model on its 720 acres by attaching it to a greenhouse. Its motto is “great food from the best fish.” Alaska needs to pay attention, Evridge advises. “In sum, these proposed facilities would have production that in some years is equal to current Alaska salmon production. It’s certainly something to pay attention to and it looks like there’s momentum around the industry.” Video deadline Aug. 2 is the deadline to submit short videos that highlight contributions of women in all segments of the seafood industry: fishing, fish farming, processing, selling, managing, teaching, etc. It’s the second round for the contest that was launched last year by the Paris-based group Women in the Seafood Industry. Last year’s winner showcased women who mend nets for a living in Spain. Second place went to a film about California women who formed a clam farming cooperative. Tied for third place were films about female fishing mentors in Newfoundland and women in India who started food trucks to sell their husbands’ catches. The top winner receives 1,000 euros along with two 500-euro prizes. Enter at www.womeninseafood.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Cook Inlet salmon fisheries into full swing after rough 2018

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct that the 2018 Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery closed two days early. Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries are now in full swing, with promising sockeye returns finally showing up. East Side setnetters in the sections north of Kasilof opened for their first period July 8, and the personal-use dipnet fishery on the Kenai River opened July 10. They join the drift gillnet fleet and other Upper Cook Inlet setnetters as well as the inriver sportfishery and the Kasilof River personal-use fishery. As of July 8, nearly 80,000 sockeye salmon had passed the sonar in the Kenai River. That’s more than double the number that had passed through on the previous date in 2018, when only 37,513 had passed, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Kasilof River sonar has registered about 98,635 sockeye, ahead of the 81,076 counted in 2018. Both rivers saw an uptick in daily passage on July 8 compared to July 7. Commercial fishermen throughout Upper Cook Inlet have harvested about 186,305 sockeye so far, according to ADFG. They’ve also harvested about 18,736 pink salmon, the second-largest component of their harvest so far. The pink salmon runs fluctuate wildly on a two-year basis in most areas, peaking in even years in Upper Cook Inlet. The run would normally be small this year, but ADFG has already had to apportion the pink salmon run within the sockeye run in the Kenai River. The managers run a fishwheel near the sonar site to help apportion the run when the pinks comprise more than 5 percent of the samples during the day. “The pinks in an odd year are usually earlier,” said Brian Marston, the commercial area management biologist for Upper Cook Inlet. “Now is exceptionally early for pinks.” The catch hasn’t been exceptionally high so far, he said. The managers apportioned both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers for about three days, but the passage on both rivers has dropped since then. Pink salmon usually peak in the area in early August. One of the major hallmarks of this summer so far has been the heat. Southcentral Alaska has smashed heat records in Anchorage and Kenai, with temperatures soaring into the upper 80s and up to 90 degrees on the Fourth of July. Along with the atmospheric heat, and possibly contributing to it, is increased sea surface temperatures across the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Data from the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks show that the waters around Cook Inlet are several degrees Celsius above average. While the effects of warmer ocean temperatures are unclear this summer so far, past studies have connected warmer water temperatures with changing marine organism behavior, including fish. So far, Marston said he hasn’t heard reports of particularly abnormal sockeye behavior. The lack of wind this summer may have made it harder for fishermen to hit aggregations of salmon, so members of the fleet have reported some tough fishing. The only direct data ADFG collects on sea surface temperature in Cook Inlet are with the Anchor Point test fishery, which takes place off the coast of Anchor Point as a way of gauging run timing coming into Cook Inlet. In the winter, ADFG collects data on the temperature of the Gulf of Alaska as a way of informing the run timing of the run the following year. Marston said the data they gathered this winter showed that the run this year is likely to be three or four days early. Stream temperatures are also significantly warmer than usual. The Kenai River at Soldotna, which is usually about 54 degrees Fahrenheit in July, measured at 64 degrees on July 9, according to the National Weather Service. Little Willow Creek in the Mat-Su Valley clocked in at 74 degrees. Those warm temperatures may discourage salmon from entering the lakes. Marston said the ADFG weirs in Mat-Su Valley lakes— Chelatna, Judd and Larson lakes — just went in and no fish have passed them yet, but with nearly 80 degrees measuring in some of the lakes, sockeye may not be eager to leave the cooler streams to head into the lakes. For all systems, ADFG is expecting about 6 million sockeye salmon to return to Upper Cook Inlet. With escapement goals totaling about 2 million, that leaves about 4 million for harvest, 3 million of which would go to the commercial fleet. The bulk of those sockeye are bound for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, the two largest producers in the inlet, followed by the Susitna River. The forecast, which is slightly greater than the 20-year average, was welcome news for fishermen, who endured one of their worst sockeye seasons in recent memory in 2018. The harvest, about 1.3 million salmon total, was about 61 percent fewer than the recent 10-year average. Fishermen were out of the water for a big chunk of the season due to the poor sockeye return, and ADFG closed the Kenai River dipnet fishery two days early. The sockeye did eventually show up, but for the first time in recent memory, more than half the run showed up in the river after Aug. 1. So far, the run timing has been right about on average. About midway through July, ADFG reevaluates the run projection and adjusts management accordingly. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: ‘Unheard of’ flood of pinks surprises at Alaska Peninsula

The biggest fish story for Alaska’s salmon season so far is the early plug of pinks at the South Alaska Peninsula. By June 28, more than 8 million pink salmon were taken there out of a statewide catch of just more than 8.5 million. Previously, a catch of 2.5 million pinks at the South Peninsula in 2016 was the record for June and last year’s catch was just 1.7 million Managers at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Sand Point said at this pace, this month’s catch could near 10 million pinks. “It’s unheard of, really,” ADFG’s Elisabeth Fox told KDLG radio. Typically, pink salmon return to the South Pen region in July and managers believe the earlier arrivals are not homing in on local streams. “We don’t know where these pinks are going,” Fox said. No tagging studies have been done on the pinks passing through, but they could be headed farther north to Norton Sound where record numbers also have shown up for the past few years. “There is no known link between South Peninsula pinks and Norton Sound,” Jim Menard, Area Manager for ADFG in Nome, told SeafoodNews.com. You can track Alaska’s daily salmon catches by region and species with ADFG’s Blue Sheet. There are also in-season summaries that graph the weekly progression of commercial salmon harvests and compare it with five-year averages. Pink pressure All those pink salmon could face stiff headwinds from Russia in global markets. Alaska projects a total catch of nearly 138 million pinks this summer, 97 million more than last year, and Russian fleets expect another huge haul. “If Alaska and Russia both realize their forecasts it will be interesting to see how the market reacts,” said economist Garrett Evridge with the McDowell Group. Just how big might Russia’s pink salmon catch be? “Russia is anticipating a harvest in line with last year which was a record. It was over one billion pounds,” Evridge said. “For context, in 2018 Alaska harvested about 150 million pounds.” Speaking of Russia, we’re into the fifth year of an embargo that Russia put on U.S. seafood and other food purchases in 2014 to retaliate for alleged U.S. meddling in Ukraine affairs. That‘s been an annual loss of over $60 million to Alaska, mostly for salmon roe sales to Russia which had grown by 222 percent in 2013, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to buy increasing amounts of seafood from Russia, mostly king crab, snow crab and sockeye salmon. Trade data show the US bought $51 million of Russian-caught seafood in 2018. Dunleavy déjà vu On June 28, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy cut an additional $444 million from Alaska’s operating budget. All the amendments that the legislature had added back into the original ADFG budget were vetoed. There is a gag order on fisheries staff at ADFG and no one is allowed to talk about the budget cuts. All questions are referred to “the governor’s administration.” United Fishermen of Alaska provided this initial breakdown: • $997,000 less for commercial fisheries management • 50 percent reduction in funds for travel across all divisions (including Commercial Fisheries) • $280,000 less for special areas management • Transfer of two director-level positions and associated funding from the Division of Habitat and Division of Subsistence Research to the Office of Management and Budget. (these jobs will no longer be associated with ADFG-related duties) Shuckin’ time One of Alaska’s most exclusive fisheries gets underway on July 1: weathervane scallops. Just two boats take part in the fishery that spans from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. “It’s not something you can get into easily,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at ADFG in Kodiak. “It takes a fair bit of institutional knowledge and also specialized gear. Lots of people have some Tanner crab pots lying around but not many have a 15-foot New Bedford scallop dredge in their backyards.” The scallop fishery also is very labor intensive as it includes crews of up to 12 people who catch and shuck the catch. “Every Alaska scallop you’ve ever seen was shucked by hand,” Nichols said. This year the two boats will compete for 267,000 pounds of shucked meats, which are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed. They are a wildly popular delicacy and can pay fishermen $6 to $10 per pound, depending on size and grade. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery is co-managed with the federal government and has 100 percent observer coverage. It takes a scallop around five years to be large enough to retain in the fishery. Weathervane scallops are the largest in the world and their shells can measure 8 to 10 inches across. Get thee to a DMV! A request by United Fishermen of Alaska to postpone a new state title and registration law that requires fishing vessels, tenders, barges and sport fish boats to register at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles was denied by Department of Administration’s Commissioner Kelley Tshibaka. Here’s the breakdown from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission: Undocumented vessels without a valid certificate of documentation issued by the U.S. coast guard must continue to be registered with the DMV and now must also be titled with the DMV. Documented vessels with a valid certificate of documentation issued by the USCG now must also be registered with the DMV. Federally documented vessels are exempt from the new title requirements but are no longer exempt from the DMV registration requirement. Fish movers Alaskans Cora Campbell and Nicole Kimball have been named to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council by the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The council oversees over 25 Alaska fisheries from three to 200 miles from shore. Campbell is a former ADFG Commissioner and current CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, a company started by fishermen in Sitka in 2007 that has grown to become one of Alaska’s largest seafood companies. Kimball served for many years as federal fisheries coordinator for ADFG and is currently vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association that has represented Alaska seafood companies since 1914. Both will serve three-year terms that begin on Aug. 11. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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