Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Grundens launches outerwear collection made from old gear

Grundens is using recycled plastics from old fishing gear for a new line of rugged casual wear, and the first batch contains contributions from Cordova. Grundens, whose motto is “We are fishing,” is the go-to brand for outerwear and foul-weather gear for mariners around the world. The company, which originated in Sweden in 1911, debuted its NetSource Collection this spring. The men’s shorts and women’s leggings use ECONYL, a regenerated nylon fabric that uses recycled fishing nets as the raw material. The company connected with the Copper River Watershed Project which collects the fishing nets and gets prepares them for shipping to Europe, where they are recycled into plastic pellets or, in this case, fibers. “We believe it’s really important to use our brand voice to help protect and maintain healthy marine environments and to lend a hand where we can,” said Mat Jackson, Grundens chief marketing officer. “At some point, you’ve got to just start doing it. And Cordova seemed like a tangible opportunity.” “Cordova is moving full steam ahead,” said Nicole Baker of Net Your Problem who helped make the Grundens connection. Baker, a former Bering Sea fisheries observer, has helped jumpstart fishing gear recycling programs in Alaska since 2017. “The gill net fleet is pretty dialed in and seines are made out of the same type of plastic, so those two gear types can be recycled together,” she added. “Right now, it’s just a small part of our overall collection, but we seek to expand it to other items, including foul-weather gear. It’s something we really believe in,” said Grundens spokesman Corey Lowe. “We’re aware of the amount of ghost nets and plastics in the ocean so whether we’re doing it or our competitors, we want more of it to end up in the recycling supply chain. We see it as a rising tide lifts all boats kind of thing and positive for the industry overall.” He added, “Hopefully, when fishermen buy something from us later on, it’s kind of cool to think ‘hey, my net is now hanging off my shoulders as a jacket or something.’” Grundens also is now using 100 percent biodegradable packaging called PLA whose raw material is glucose from corn starch. It fully decomposes in under one year. By June 2021 all products will be shipped in compostable Eco-packaging. “Grundens encourages other brands to follow suit and increase the rate at which plastic poly bags are eliminated from the apparel supply chain,” a press report said. Recycling road trip Grundens also has its eye on old fishing gear from Bristol Bay, where the borough will discuss a funding request from Net Your Problem at its June 7 meeting. Founder Nicole Baker said she had “tentative commitments” from the Regional Seafood Development Association, the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. and Grundens to help pay for the first year of recycling there. “If that gets approved, cross our fingers, we will be able to start in 2022,” Baker said. She and team members also will be in Cordova on June 8 to and in Homer in mid-June to talk with people about getting a program going there. They will head to Dutch Harbor on June 18. “We’re going to be working with the City to sort through the landfill and recycle what we can, and also to push for the boats to do recycling,” Baker said. In Southeast Alaska, Friends of Recycling in Haines is collecting fishing nets and RecycleWorks in Juneau is doing the same at Aurora Harbor. Kodiak is still accepting trawl nets and “things are in the works” for other gears, Baker said. The Dillingham program is defunct, Baker said, and the landfill there doesn’t accept fishing nets. “I’m hoping that those two forces will encourage fishermen and other businesses to work with us to get something going again,” she said. Baker is doing a survey to estimate the amount of fishing gear available for recycling in Alaska and said “every single fisherman with the exception of one has said they think recycling is a better option for their gear than the landfill.” The problem, she added, is “how do we pay for it? Do our values and morals align with what budgets we have and other alternatives costs?” Much of it falls to human behavior. Net Your Problem is one of 10 finalists in a global “Solution Search” competition for solutions related to plastic pollution that rely on behavior changes. It is sponsored by the Center for Behaviour and the Environment and the winning entrant receives a $25,000 grant. Project supporters can vote once per day through June 11. Dutch does it again Dutch Harbor easily held on to the title of the nation’s top fishing port, Naknek laid claim to No. 2 in terms of dollars crossing the docks and salmon toppled lobster as America’s most valuable fish. Those are a few takeaways from the Fisheries of the U.S. report by NOAA Fisheries for 2019. It also covers trade, mariculture and more for nearly every fish in the sea and is loaded with colorful graphics. A snapshot: Dutch Harbor was the leading port for fish landings for the 23rd year running with 763 million pounds worth $190 million. The Aleutian Islands, home to North America’s largest processing plant at Akutan, ranked second (589 million pounds/$142 million) and Kodiak placed third for landings (397 million pounds/$120 million). For value, New Bedford, Mass., held on to the top spot for 20 years at $451 million, due to landings of pricey scallops. Naknek ranked second for catch value at $289 million for 206 million pounds, followed by the Aleutians ($149 million), Bristol Bay ($129 million) and Kodiak ($120 million). Eight Alaska ports (40 percent) were in the top 20 for both seafood landings and values and accounted for 24 percent of the top 50. Of all the seafood species caught by U.S. fishermen, Pacific salmon had the highest value at $707 million for 840 million pounds. Alaska accounted for 99 percent of the total U.S. salmon catch. The average salmon price to Alaska fishermen was 81-cents a pound, down from 99-cents in 2018. Alaska pollock was tops for fish that is processed into fillets and other forms (1.6 billion pounds/$2.2 billion). Second was sockeye salmon (211 million pounds/$1 billion). In all, U.S. fisheries produced 9.3 billion pounds in 2019 worth $5.5 billion, on par with the previous year. Sixty percent of the U.S. catch and 33 percent of the value were generated by Alaska fisheries. The U.S. imported 6 billion pounds of seafood ($22.2 billion) and exported 2.8 billion pounds ($5.2 billion) for a trade deficit of $17 billion. For recreational fisheries, spotted trout was the #1 catch by U.S. anglers, followed by black sea bass and bluefish. And Americans ate a bit more seafood - 19.2 pounds per person, up two-tenths from 2018. Salmon watch At Copper River’s second opener on May 20, New Peter Pan Seafood paid $12.60 per pound for sockeyes and $19.60 for kings, an all-time high. Peter Pan Vice President of Operations Jon Hickman said, “leaders at Peter Pan are looking forward to being a foundation for all fishermen, communities and the market.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

2021 Copper River fishery underway with record prices

Update: State managers have decided to close the Copper River drift fishery for the 12-hour Thursday fishing period to allow more sockeye into the river, according to an advisory issued late Tuesday. Through Tuesday, just 6,298 sockeye had been enumerated at the Miles Lake sonar site upriver from the fishery while approximately 40,000 fish should've passed the sonar so far to meet the Department of Fish and Game's inriver run goal, the advisory states. ADFG Commercial Management Biologist Jeremy Botz noted that remaining ice flows in the river have deployment of the sonar equipment on the south bank of Miles Lake, which based on historical counts means only about half of the sockeye that have moved passed the sonar site have been counted. Botz added that he believes the sockeye are moving slowly through the lower river, which has abnormally low and cold flows, but said the low counts still necessitate closing the period. He's hopeful fishing can resume on a normal schedule with the 12-hour opener scheduled for Memorial Day. "We're still somewhere in that middle ground," between a potentially late and poor run, he said. Fishermen harvested 32,727 sockeye during the Monday opener, a drastic improvement over the first two periods; however, approximatley 56,000 fish should've been harvested based on historial data for the period, according to the closure advisory. Original story: The famed Copper River salmon fishery appears to be improving after a slow start and harvesters are mostly enjoying sky-high prices for their catch. Peter Pan Seafoods announced following the second 12-hour Copper River drift gillnet opener of the year that the company would be paying $19.60 per pound for kings and $12.60 per pound for sockeye; those prices that are several fold greater than historical averages. That compares to early season ground prices in the $3 to $4 per pound range for sockeye and just more than $6 per pound for Copper River kings last year when the onset of the pandemic closed many restaurants that drive much of the demand for salmon from the early season fishery. Peter Pan Vice President Jon Hickman said in a statement that to his recollection those are the highest prices any processor has paid for Copper River salmon. Those prices were reflected in retail offerings as well. Anchorage’s 10th and M Seafoods was selling Copper River sockeye for $54.95 per pound and kings for $69.95 per pound May 25. Seattle’s renowned Pike Place Market at the same time was advertising sockeye fillets for $59.99 per pound and fresh Copper River king for $79.98 per pound. While prices in the Copper River fishery are strong, the fishing is trying to catch up. Copper River drifters harvested 5,188 kings and 52,729 sockeye in the first three openings of the fishery, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game figures. The king catch was fairly steady with between 1,160 and 2,068 fish caught in each of the three 12-hour openers but most of the sockeye — 32,727 of them — were caught May 24. The king harvest through three periods has already nearly matched last year when 5,850 big salmon were caught and the sockeye harvest is more than halfway there as well. A very poor Copper River sockeye return last year resulted in a harvest of just 98,294 fish when recent harvests had averaged more than 1.2 million sockeye, according to ADFG records. Fishing was closed for much of June due to poor catches in the May openers and low in-river sonar sockeye counts. Last year’s Copper River sockeye run totaled just 630,000 fish based on combined escapement and harvest data. This year, the department’s forecast calls for a total run of just more than 1.3 million sockeye with an allowable harvest of approximately 672,000 fish. The 2021 Copper River king forecast of 37,000 fish, if accurate, would allow for an all-user harvest of 13,000 kings to still meet the system-wide escapement objective. Through May 24 managers had counted just 4,813 at the Miles Lake sonar just upriver from the fishery; however, ice in the lake prevented complete readings for the first few days of counts. The Copper River sockeye escapement goal range is 360,000-750,000 fish for the prolonged run. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: State seafood marketers hoping for pandemic relief

Alaska’s lone seafood marketing arm gets zero budget from the state and to date, has received no pandemic funds. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is hoping to get a breather from the more than $1 billion coming to Alaska in the latest round of federal relief dollars under the American Rescue Plan, or ARP. The influx also provides $518 million of non-discretionary funds to Alaska and $220 million for public health and safety, workforce development, education, transportation, and emergency management. ASMI put in a $20 million request two months ago, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy made no mention of it in mid-April when he released his proposals for the ARP money nor anything since. Dunleavy did include $150 million for Alaska Tourism Revitalization citing the need for “industry relief to promote tourism and adapt services for potential loss of cruise ship season.” “Recovering market losses from the pandemic will require additional investment,” said Jack Schultheis, ASMI board chair and manager of Kwik’Pac Fisheries in Emmonak. He cited widespread closures, shipping disruptions to markets and added costs for harvesters and processors in the communities where they operate. ASMI revenues dropped 25 percent in the last year, due to an estimated $500 million in lost income to the statewide fleet. The group is solely funded by a 0.5 percent voluntary industry tax based on dock prices and competitive grant funding. “ASMI’s revenue is expected to decline by $5 million over two years,” said executive director Jeremy Woodrow at a House Fisheries Committee presentation last week. Along with COVID-19 impacts, Alaska’s seafood industry faces a double-whammy from hurtful trade barriers. Seafood is Alaska’s largest export by far with nearly 75 percent exported each year to nearly 100 countries. The newest trade snafu is a 25 percent to 35 percent tariff imposed last November on U.S. salmon going to the 27 countries that comprise the European Union. The dispute stems from U.S. subsidies being paid to Boeing and competing European aircraft. China, Alaska’s largest trading partner, has levied 37 percent to 42 percent tariffs on Alaska seafood since 2018. Russia, Alaska’s largest competitor, slammed its doors on U.S. seafood purchases in 2014, but Russian exports to the U.S. are up 173 percent. ASMI’s profile and the off-kilter seafood trade deals could get a nudge from two resolutions filed last week by Alaska senators. Senate Joint Resolution 16 calls on President Biden to immediately seek and secure an end to the Russian embargo on U.S. seafood imports. Senate Joint Resolution 17 asks the U.S. Trade Representative to bring a renewed focus on the plight of producers of seafood in Alaska and the U.S., and to compel China to comply with its commitment to increase its imports of U.S. seafood products. Dollars for direct sellers The Local Catch Network, a nationwide group of small-scale harvesters, will act as guides through another round of relief funds. The Farmers Market Promotion and Local Food Promotion programs include $77 million in competitive grants for seafood businesses, Tribes and groups involved in local, regional and direct seafood marketing. National Fisherman reports it stems from $92.2 million in funding through the 2018 Farm Bill Local Agriculture Market Program as part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative. Local and direct seafood sales have been a bright spot during the pandemic and direct to consumer, e-commerce sales increased by 122 percent over the past year, according to ASMI data. For the next six weeks, the Local Catch Network will host outreach events and provide technical help to fishermen and community organizations interested in applying for funding. Copper River fish frenzy Phones were “ringing off the hook” at Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle where pre-orders of fresh sockeye salmon fillets were retailing at $49.99 per pound, and $79.99 per pound for Copper River kings. The fish was expected on May 18, one day after the salmon season’s first opener. The Cordova Times reported that Sena Sea Seafoods in Washington, the sales arm of Cordova-based 60º North Seafoods, had pre-orders for fresh king fillets at $139 per pound and $122 for sockeyes. Four eight-ounce portions of frozen kings were going for $189 and frozen sockeye pre-orders were $95 for four, six-ounce portions. Copper Rivers Seafoods was taking orders for sockeye fillets at $49.95 per pound and king salmon at $69.95. Anchorage-based seafood marketer FishEx was promoting sockeye orders at $44.95 per pound and $78.95 for kings. State managers forecast low total Copper River catches this year at 652,000 sockeyes, 13,000 king salmon and 218,000 coho. Overall, Alaska’s 2021 statewide salmon harvest is projected to top 190 million fish, a 61 percent increase over the 2020 catch. Fish builders Turning plastics from old fishing gear and marine debris into durable lumber is building momentum from coast to coast and one Alaska entrepreneur plans to take it on the road. Patrick Simpson of Cordova received a $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a mobile plastic waste recycler. He told Alaska Public Media that the recycler would fit into one or two 40-foot container vans for easy transport to local communities. “The technology is not terribly difficult,” he said. “The innovation is in the use of the net combined with the melted plastic to create an extruded recycled plastic lumber, and the packaging into this mobile platform.” Along with old fishing gear, Simpson plans to pick up plastic materials that wash up on local coastlines. He hopes to gather the goods collected in community beach cleanups before it goes to landfills. Plastics come in many forms, he said, and the kinds used in milk jugs or bottles are different from those used in nets or ropes. “I’m able to take the polyethylene and polypropylene and I’m melting those, and then I’m shredding net nylon and using it as a reinforcement, the fibers, to create a recycled plastic lumber. Then I’m going to sell that locally,” he said. Simpson said the lumber could be best used for decks, fences or roofing tiles. He is hoping to get a more sizeable grant that would enable him to use drones to locate plastic debris on coastlines. Elsewhere, Radio Canada reports that Goodwood Plastic Products in Nova Scotia has commercialized synthetic lumber made out of derelict fishing gear and other plastics, using a nearly half-million dollar grant from the government. It’s part of a more than $8 million Innovative Solutions fund that includes fishermen and divers eager to help. The recyclables are shredded, melted, and pushed through molds to create planks and posts for decks, park benches and picnic tables. Goodwood now employs 10 people and hopes to recycle more than 22 million pounds of plastics annually. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Director ‘encouraged’ by proposed ComFish division budget

The budget for Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Division is facing no cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, assuming the current numbers make it through the Legislature. “The governor’s proposed budget is at about $72.8 million, which is a slight increase from the FY21 approved budget. And most of that increase is due to our personnel services, cost of living increases and things like that that are funded by the administration generally. And also from some additional federal funds for training and things like that. So we’re looking pretty good compared to past years,” said Sam Rabung, director of the Commercial Fisheries Division, the largest within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which employs just more than 640 full, part-time and seasonal workers. “We’re really relieved because we’ve been cut pretty close to the bone and any additional significant cuts would impact fisheries directly. We wouldn’t be able to do some of the assessment projects required for management and we would have to either close or severely restrict fisheries. And I think everybody understands that,” he said, adding that another bonus will be the reopening of the ADFG office at Wrangell. Rabung credited the Dunleavy Administration for taking the time to dig into the details that clearly show Alaska’s fisheries “pay their own way.” “We’re absolutely encouraged by that,” he said. “There’s been a lot of administrations that come in without knowing that the commercial fishing industry pays more into the general fund than we get out as a division to manage it. And because we don’t advertise that, it doesn’t get talked about much. “But commercial fisheries as an industry pays more into the general fund and includes other things like licenses, fees, taxes, assessments, all those things add up to significantly more than we are allocated out of the general fund.” Rabung added that most Alaskans don’t know that the Commercial Fisheries Division also manages subsistence and personal use fisheries, along with several fisheries in federal waters, such as crab. And because fish are migratory and cross jurisdictional boundaries, staff also are involved in research and policy making activities of the Pacific Salmon Commission, the Joint Canadian-U.S. Yukon River Panel and several other interstate and international fisheries bodies. Southwest AK COVID-19 survey How helpful have COVID-19 relief programs been so far to people in Alaska’s vast Southwest region? A short survey aims to find out. “We really wanted to focus on individual’s experiences, we’re not sending out to local governments, tribal governments, large organizations, things like that. We want to hear what the impacts or results of the Coronavirus was to you personally and to your family,” said Shirley Marquardt, executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference that since 1988 has represented more than 45 communities from Kodiak to the Bristol Bay region, the Alaska Peninsula out to Adak, the Pribilof Islands and everywhere in between. “We want to learn how helpful or accessible were federal, state, local, Tribal grants or loan programs, because each community in our region has a different experience, and it’s really vitally important that we get a handle on what those were,” she said. One goal is to create a sort of roadmap to better understand the unique characteristics of an economic disaster in each community and region. “The second would be how SWAMC can better understand the grants or loan programs, or utility payments for municipalities that were most helpful,” Marquardt explained. “A lot of money went out that wasn’t accessible to a lot of folks in our region because we have such limited broadband. And you could only apply online. We want to get a better handle and understanding of how that impacted folks and how to better understand the eligibility requirements and the application process.” Marquardt said spotty or no broadband service throughout the region kept many people from accessing any benefits. “We had people who were out fishing and they couldn’t apply and they were clearly eligible and truly needed the money. And they were so frustrated because they had to wait. And some of the folks waited and then they were told it was too late,” she said. The survey, done in partnership with McKinley Research Group, will examine lessons learned and identify strategies to help Southwest communities better withstand and recover from future economic shocks. “Anyone who lives and works in those communities, has kids in school, has health care concerns, etc., we need to hear from you,” Marquardt said. Find the survey at www.swamc.org. Respondents can enter to win a $50 Visa gift card. Alaska pollock push Got an idea for making or marketing new pollock products? The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers aims to create more awareness and demand among consumers in North America and Europe through its Partnership Program by funding new items or helping to get the fish introduced to food influencers and decision-makers at places where it hasn’t previously had visibility. “It’s our fifth round in North America and our second round in Europe,” said CEO Craig Morris. The group has so far obligated more than $5 million to “brand partners” who have created three dozen new pollock products, with $1.5 million available in the current round. “This year we want to think even bigger, bringing new partners into the program and working to identify new opportunities for more unique products, including those made with surimi and roe,” he said, adding that pollock oil and fishmeal also are in the mix. “Pollock oils for health supplements or pet food items, we want to hear all the good ideas,” he added. Morris said that “snacks” best defines the success of the new pollock products that have been funded so far, including such items as Highliner Alaska Wild Wings (a takeoff on Buffalo wings), surimi pastas and Neptune jerky (available at Amazon). And last year, 7-Eleven worked with GAPP to introduce a crispy fish sandwich during Lent in its 8,000 U.S. outlets that proved to be one of its most popular hot foods. Building on that success, 7-Eleven followed this year with grab and go fish bites: five bite-sized pieces that are panko-crusted and served on a skewer with a side of tartar sauce. GAPP is featuring a webinar on May 25 for any prospective applicants to help them through the process. Proposals are due by July 20; funding announcements will be made in early September. Find more information and application forms for its Partnership Program at www.alaskapollock.org. Price watch Contrary to usual trends, halibut and sablefish (black cod) prices have increased since the March 6 start of the fisheries. Industry watchers will be interested in knowing that dock prices are regularly posted by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Halibut prices often are broken out according to weights of 10 to 20 pounds, 20 to 40 pounds and 40-up. Here’s a sampler: March 10 at Whittier, $5.50 to $5.75; March 16 at Petersburg, $5.75 straight; April 6 at Yakutat, $5.75 to $6; Seward, $5.75 to $6.15; April 17 at Homer, $6.30/$6.55/$6.85; April 22 at Sitka, $5.65 to $5.85. Black cod prices are broken into five weight categories by poundage. Prices on April 17 at Kodiak were less than 2 pounds, $1.05; 2 to 3, $2.15; 3 to 4, $2.60; 4 to 5, $3; 5 to 6, $3.65; 7-ups. $5.50. By April 19 at Homer they were less than 2 pounds, 40 cents; 2 to 3, $1.50; 3 to 4, $2; 4 to 5, $2.50; 5 to 6, $4; 7-ups, $5. On April 22 at Sitka: less than 2 pounds, $1; 2 to 3, $2.10; 3 to 4, $2.40; 4 to 5, $2.85; 5 to 7, $3.65; 7-ups, $5.50. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Effort launched to study stormwater runoff

Are toxins from road runoff a threat to salmon in Anchorage’s most popular fishing streams? A Go Fund Me campaign has been launched so Alaskans can chip in to find out. The push stems from an organic compound in tires called quinone that was newly identified by researchers at the University of Washington, said Birgit Hagedorn, a geochemist and longtime board member of the Anchorage Waterways Council. “The little flakes that rub off of tires, especially larger truck tires, can be transported into the streams via stormwater. And they leach out the compound that they discovered was highly toxic to salmon. They were specifically looking at coho salmon,” she explained. Hagedorn hopes to raise $5,500 to test the urban waters that run off the Seward and Glenn highways into Ship Creek and Campbell Creek. The Ship Creek salmon sport fishery is the region’s most popular and successful where anglers target stocked chinook and coho salmon. Other stocked coho salmon fisheries have been established in Campbell and Bird creeks, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Hagedorn already has samples of snow melt in her freezer to send to testing labs and more will be taken this summer. “During the first really big rain event, we want to go out and sample again. We provide the sampling and the labor and we don’t take some money for that,” she said. “The fundraiser is to pay for the analysis, because it’s relatively complicated. It takes up to $500 for just one sample.” Little is known about the compound that is used by tire manufacturers to make the rubber more durable. “How long does it actually last in water? What is the degradation rate? Can it be absorbed? Those are really variable research studies that could be put in place to understand this compound better,” she said. The hope is to eventually partner with the Anchorage municipality and the state university to advance further studies and encourage tire makers to stop using the toxic compound. That’s been the case in Washington state where a Better Brakes law passed in 2010 phases out copper from brakes completely by 2025 to protect salmon. California has followed suit and the program is advancing nationwide. Studies have shown that copper levels as low as two parts per billion from vehicle brake pads and exhaust impair the sense of smell in juvenile salmon, which helps them avoid predators. “If there are larger predators around and the fish are not able to respond to these danger signals in the water, they would be the next snack,” said Jason Sandahl at Oregon State University, who is one of the first to show how contaminants can disrupt the chemical balance of sea creatures. Meanwhile, studies like Hagedorn’s highlight just how little is known about impacts of compounds in a watery mix of automotive byproducts that runoff from roads into adjacent waters. “Urban runoff mortality syndrome occurs annually among adult coho salmon returning to spawn in freshwaters where concurrent stormwater exposure causes rapid mortality. It is unlikely that coho salmon are uniquely sensitive, and the toxicology of 6PPD quinone transformation products in other aquatic species should be assessed,” wrote the UW scientists in the January 2021 abstract in Science Magazine. “To know what’s out there, I think that’s an important first step.” Hagedorn said. Gulf crabbers go big Crabbers throughout the Gulf of Alaska are enjoying some great hauls, especially for Tanners and Dungeness. An 11-day winter fishery throughout Southeast Alaska produced 1.26 million pounds of Tanner crab, the fourth-largest catch in the past 15 seasons for nearly 70 permit holders. At an average price of $3.72 per pound, the fishery was valued at $4.2 million at the docks, the best since 1999. For golden king crab, four out of seven Southeast fishing districts remain open with a combined harvest limit of 76,500 pounds. Crabbers were fetching $11.33 per pound and many were selling the crab off the docks. Southeast crabbers also had their second best fishery for Dungeness. Catches for the combined 2020 summer and fall crab fisheries totaled nearly 6.7 million pounds, more than double the 10 year average, and just shy of the record 7.3 million pounds taken in 2002. The price to fishermen was disappointing, averaging $1.72 per pound, down by more than a dollar making the dockside value more than $11.5 million. Kodiak is gearing up for a Dungeness crab fishery that begins on May 1 and will last into the fall. Last season produced the biggest catch in 30 years at just less than 3 million pounds for a fleet of 29 boats. Prices for the two-pounders dropped to $1.85, down from more than $3 in previous seasons. The higher catches were due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, said Nat Nichols, area manager for the ADFG at Kodiak. The stocks are very cyclical and could be the tail end of a peak. “We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and in the past these peaks have lasted three years of so and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through. So this could be that we’re coming to the end of this peak. This summer will tell the tale,” he said. After sitting out a Tanner fishery this year, crabbers at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula have fingers crossed for an opener in 2022. Surveys over several years showed the largest cohort of Tanner crabs ever seen is poised to grow into the fishery throughout the westward region. “There’s been a good recruitment signal all the way out. And they seem to be growing well,” Nichols said, adding that Tanners at the South Peninsula near Sand Point and King Cove usually lag about one year behind. He agreed that fewer cod fish throughout the Gulf could account for the steady uptick in Tanners. “There’s just a lot fewer mouths out there trying to eat Tanner crab right now,” he said. Seaweed stops gas For several years, studies in Australia and Canada have proven that small amounts of red seaweed added to livestock feed greatly reduces methane from the gas they pass in burps and farts. Cow burps alone account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA, and the U.S. is only the world’s fourth-largest producer of cattle, behind China, Brazil, and India. Now researchers at University of California Davis have revealed that cattle eating just three ounces of red seaweed daily over five months gained as much weight as their herd mates while burping out 82 percent less methane into the atmosphere. The seaweed additive also did not hurt the cattle’s growth or change the taste of beef. The UC Davis studies followed earlier research on dairy cows where daily seaweed dosages were used from the time they were calves until full grown. Methane emissions dropped by 50 percent and the longer term use did not change the taste of the cows’ milk. All researchers used a red seaweed found in warmer waters throughout the Pacific called Asparagopsis toxiformis. It’s one of the most popular seaweed ingredients in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke. But the supply from wild harvests is not enough to go around. To the rescue: startups already are underway to produce it. SeafoodSource reports that Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology has partnered with Yale University to cultivate the seaweed in land-based tanks with intentions of providing it to livestock farmers around the world. An Australian project called Greener Grazing is the first to develop methods to produce Asparagosis spores for ocean cultivation. And last year a dried product called FutureFeed created at James Cook University in partnership with Meat and Livestock Australia won a Food Planet Prize of $1 million. Doses of just 1 to 2 percent of their dried seaweed reduced methane emissions in cud-chewing livestock by 99 percent. The makers claim that if just 10 percent of global livestock producers added 1 percent of Asparagopsis seaweed meal to the daily feeds of cud-chewing livestock, it would be similar to taking 100 million cars off the road. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Demand jump, tight supply leading to record crab prices

“Insatiable” is the word being used to describe the demand for snow crab as the world’s largest fishery got underway on April 5 in Eastern Canada. And while more snow crab will be available this year, buyers expect a tight supply. Global seafood supplier Tradex said snow crab and other “premium crab” saw huge growth at retail in 2020 and demand is even greater this year. Seafood like crab and lobster are now perceived as being affordable to buy and cook at home compared to the cost in restaurants. Tradex spokesperson Tasha Cadence said that shift has spawned a new pandemic-inspired word by market experts. “It’s ‘premium-ization,’ or customers recognizing a higher value for a product and paying a higher price,” she said, referring to comments by industry veteran Les Hodges in his April Crab Update. The combined Canadian catch for snow crab through September, most of which is sold to the U.S., tops 157 million pounds, 11 million pounds higher than 2020. The Canadian crab comprises 62 percent of the U.S. market share, according to Urner-Barry, which has provided information for the food industry since 1858. Prices for snow crab to Canadian fishermen were reported by Undercover News at a record $4.56 (U.S.), adding that they could top $7 per pound. Russia is the second-largest snow crab producer with a harvest of nearly 98 million pounds in its year round fishery this year. Much of the product goes to markets in China, Korea, and the U.S., where imports in 2020 were up by 80 percent to 42 million pounds valued at nearly $341 million. “And with the Russian quota increasing almost 35 percent in 2021, there is anticipation that even more snow crab from Russia will come into the U.S.,” according to Urner-Barry in its spring report. Alaska is the world’s third-largest snow crab producer with a catch this year of 45 million pounds for the fishery that began last Oct. 15 and ends in mid-May. The crab, which weigh 1.2 pounds on average, are sold primarily in frozen leg clusters to markets in the U.S., Japan and China for reprocessing. Advance prices to fishermen for Alaska snow crab were reported at $3 per pound but lengthy sales negotiations are likely to push that higher. Alaska’s snow crab fleet of about 60 boats received a record average advance price last year of $3.15 per pound for a 34 million-pound harvest valued at nearly $106 million. If all the snow crab catches come in as planned, it will add up to more than 300 million pounds for global markets this year, a 13 million-pound increase over 2020. And while Alaska is deservedly famous for its crab – meaning snow, king crab, Tanners and Dungeness – it’s a small player providing just 6 percent of global supply. Herring hauls The roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound ended on April 9 after two weeks of daily fishing. A fleet of about 20 seiners took an estimated 32 million pounds, less than half of the allowable harvest. Herring fishing at Kodiak began on April 1, two weeks earlier than usual, due to an earlier spawn across the island’s five fishing districts. By last week, 13 boats had taken less than half of the 16 million-pound harvest limit, the largest ever. The fish were looking good although the fleet was standing down for a few days to let more of the roe ripen, said James Jackson, area manager for the Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. He added that up to nine tenders also are on the ground and five processors are buying herring. Word on the docks is that the herring are fetching $300 per ton for fishermen, or about 6 cents per pound. The earlier start at Kodiak means that more boats could head to Togiak at Bristol Bay when that herring fishery gets underway, usually in early May. It will depend on how many processors show up to buy. Togiak is Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, this year with a whopping harvest guideline of more than 85 million pounds, the highest since 1993. Last year only 3 boats and one buyer showed up there for the fishery that ran from May 4 to 16 when the boats dropped out. In 2020 the total Alaska roe herring harvest of 17.3 million pounds was valued at just less than $8 million. Water watchers A state judge recommended last week that the state Department of Environmental Conservation was wrong to issue a Clean Water Act certificate to Donlin Mine, the world’s largest gold mine planned upstream from villages along the Kuskokwim River. The state initially issued a “certificate of reasonable assurance” to Donlin in August 2018, saying it believed Donlin’s operations would comply with state water standards, reported KYUK in Bethel. The certificate is a precursor to one of the biggest state permits Donlin needs before it can begin constructing and operating its gold mine, which requires more than 100 state permits. “The Orutsararmiut Native Council challenged the certificate, contending the state cannot have “reasonable assurance” the mine won’t violate water standards. Specifically, the tribe said the state can’t guarantee Donlin will maintain Alaska’s environmental standards for mercury levels, water temperature and fish habitat,” KYUK said. DEC’s water division may respond to the proposed decision by May 5 along with the tribal council and Donlin Mine. The final decision will rest with DEC Commissioner Jason Brune when the administrative law judge’s proposed decision and all responses to it are before him. More than 1,000 Alaskans spoke out against the state’s plans to change the rules that regulate the use of water in salmon streams during a public comment period that ended on April 2. The Department of Natural Resources claims the changes are needed “to provide clarity and consistency in the Division of Mining, Land and Water’s processes.” The changes would give developers the rights to take water from streams but would not allow other entities to hold instream water reservations to protect fish stocks. The Alaska Miners Association in 2018 blamed “anti-development entities” for using instream flow reservations to stop projects, claiming the solution is to “place an immediate moratorium on processing applications and pursue regulatory changes to ensure that only state agencies can hold reservations of state water.” A legislative hearing has been requested. Finally, the Japanese government announced it will dump 250 million gallons of treated but still radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean that has been stored in massive tanks at the Fukushima nuclear plant that was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2011, calling it “the most practical solution.” The release will begin within two years and the government said it “will do its utmost to provide compensation to fishermen for any damages.” Big NOAA budget boost President Biden has proposed a 25 percent budget increase to nearly $7 billion in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would be the biggest in the agency’s history if it gets congressional approval. That is $1.4 billion more than NOAA received for this current budget year. National efforts to fight climate change served as a primary motivator for the budget boost. “This increase includes $800 million to expand investments in climate research, support regional and local decision-making with climate data and tools, and improve community resilience to climate change,” said an April 9 budget document. “These investments would support an expanded and improved drought early-warning system, as well as competitive grants to build coastal resilience to help reduce the costly economic and environmental impacts of severe weather events on communities.” This would help protect communities from the economic and environmental impacts of climate change, and invest in modern infrastructure to enable these critical efforts. NOAA’s responsibilities include weather forecasting, climate research, ocean research, maintaining the health of U.S. fisheries and protection of endangered marine species. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Cook Inlet fishermen face poor forecast, federal uncertainty

Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen are facing pressure from two directions in the upcoming season: one is the looming potential for a complete federal waters closure, and the other is another poor projection of sockeye returns. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sockeye forecast issued April 8 predicts a total return of 4.4 million sockeye to the upper Inlet, which includes major salmon-producing waterways like the Kenai, Susitna, and Kasilof rivers A return that size would allow for a commercial catch of about 1.6 million sockeye, a little more than half of the average in the last 20 years. The Kasilof River’s run is projected to be about 881,000 sockeye, about 12 percent less than average, while the Susitna River is forecast at 436,000, or 16 percent better than average. Fish Creek is also projected slightly above the average, with 92,000 expected to return. The Kenai is the largest producer of sockeye in the Inlet, with about 2.3 million projected to return there this year. However, that’s about 1.3 million fish less than the average in the last 20 years, and means a significant decrease in the number of sockeye available for commercial harvest. Added to the allocation to the large sportfishery and personal use fishery on the Kenai, and the commercial harvest in Cook Inlet would be much smaller than in past years. That’s even if they get a chance to harvest it. Last year, setnetters on Cook Inlet’s East Side spent fewer hours in the water than usual in July, the height of the season, because of extremely poor king salmon runs to the Kenai River. Part of the management plan says that if the king salmon runs aren’t projected to meet escapement goals, an increasingly stringent set of management measures go into place, removing bait and retention from the sportfishery, reducing the number of hours allowed in the setnet fishery, and restricting the area in which the drift gillnet fleet is allowed to fish. The late run of kings to the Kenai is forecast at 18,046 fish. That’s just more than the lower end of the escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 for the late run. It’s very low — the fifth-lowest in the last 36 years, according to Fish and Game — but it would still be better than 2020’s poor return of about 12,216 kings. “Based on the forecasted run size and if harvest rates are average in both sport and commercial fisheries, the Kenai River late-run king salmon large fish (optimum escapement goal) may not be met without a reduction in sport and commercial harvest of this stock,” the department states in the outlook. The Northern District, which starts north of Nikiski and covers up to the area around the Susitna River, is facing a similar restriction. The king salmon run to the Deshka is projected to be around 11.464 fish, which is just above the lower end of the escapement goal. ADFG notes that harvest will probably need to be reined in to make sure that run makes its goal. Sportfishermen can’t keep king salmon in the Susitna or Little Susitna rivers, and setnetters will only get 6-hour fishing periods targeting kings in May up through June 21. “If the run is stronger than expected and retention of king salmon is allowed in the Deshka River sport fishery, reestablishing 9 or 12 hour openings in the directed king salmon commercial fishery may occur,” the department states in its outlook. The Northern District is scheduled to open May 31; the drift gillnet fishery on June 21, and the East Side setnet fisheries at varying times after June 28, with the exception of the Kasilof section, which can open as soon as June 20. The fishermen are facing the potential that this could be their last Cook Inlet salmon season in federal waters, too. In November, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved an amendment to the Cook Inlet salmon fishery management plan that would close all the federal waters in the inlet to salmon fishing. The decision came after a prolonged lawsuit and stakeholder process that resulted in the state refusing to accept delegated management under federal oversight, and the council voting to close the fishery with the potential open for further discussion from the federal government. If the amendment to the FMP goes forward, all the waters more than three nautical miles offshore in Cook Inlet would be closed to salmon fishing, primarily affecting the drift gillnet fleet. In some years, more than half of the drift fleet’s salmon harvest comes from the federal waters. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association and the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, whose lawsuit over the council’s decision in 2012 to remove Cook Inlet from the federal salmon FMP in the first place, have argued that this decision is illegal as well. In a March 2021 statement, the organization stated that none of the four options considered by the council were acceptable. “The real problem for the State and ADFG was the fact that a proper process and delegation of authority under the Council’s scrutiny, or (National Marine Fisheries Service’s) scrutiny, would expose the reality that none of the Cook Inlet management plans, escapement goals and in-season management practices comply with the (Magnuson-Stevens Act) or national standard requirements,” the group said in its statement. “None of these plans, goals or practices will meet the requirements of federal law, because they are so flawed, unsustainable and scientifically invalid.” The decision is under review by the National Marine Fisheries Service prior to publication in the Federal Register, when it will be available for public comment. The Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery has been worth an average ex-vessel value of $27 million in the last decade, with the vast majority of that coming from sockeye. However, last year’s was the worst ex-vessel value on record at only about $5.2 million, less than a fifth of the average. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Union seeking seafaring apprentices

Alaska fishermen displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic are being recruited for seafaring jobs aboard U.S. cargo barges, tankers, towboats, military support vessels, research and cruise ships and more. The Seafarers International Union is searching nationally for 300 apprentice workers on the vessels they are contracted to crew. Recruiters tout Alaskans as being at the top of their list. “The reason for that is people from Alaska come with a work ethic already. They’ve been working since they could stand up. And that’s why they’re so good,” said Bart Rogers, assistant vice president at the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Maryland that has trained mariners for the SIU for over 50 years. “It’s very appealing to people who live in Alaska because they can sail in a safe environment, earn a very good wage, get benefits and medical coverage for them and their family, advanced training is guaranteed, then they can go back home and spend the money they make,” said Rich Berkowitz, vice president of Pacific Coast Operations at Seattle’s Transportation Institute, who helps recruit and assess potential mariners, adding that it also includes options for veterans and Native hire. Currently, the call is out to train workers for positions as Able Seafarer Deck (a qualification needed to sail internationally), chief cooks and stewards. The training programs vary from several months to a year, Rogers said, adding that there is no tuition to attend the school but does require some incidental costs. Berkowitz pointed out another lure for Alaskans. After they’ve made it through the training and onto the ships, they can schedule trips that still let them go fishing. “Let’s say they’re in hospitality trades, they can work a good portion of the cruise season and then spend three or four months working in a fishing season,” he said. Ralph Mirsky, director of Ketchikan-based nonprofit Sealink has recruited nearly 600 Alaskans to the maritime trades over 20 years. “And the reason for that is real simple,” he said. “They make a lot of money in a short period of time, and they can still do what they want at home.” Women comprise about 15 percent of the U.S. seagoing workforce, estimated at 14,000. “There’s at least two or three in every class,” Bart Rogers said. “And don’t get me wrong, but the women are smarter and work harder than the men all day long.” Berkowitz added that Alaska gets an economic lift from its residents working in maritime trades. “All the time on planes in Seattle I see oil workers flying back and forth to Alaska from Montana or Texas to work two weeks on and off on the Slope. What we’re doing is the opposite,” he said. “We’re flying Alaskans Outside where they make all their money and then they bring it back. They’re not spending anything while they’re on the vessels. So this is a net contributor to the state’s economy, rather than a drain on it.” Learn more at https://mymaritimecareer.org/about/. Fishing updates It’s hard to believe, but in little more than a month, Alaska’s salmon season will officially get underway when sockeyes and chinook return to the Copper River near Cordova. Meanwhile, there’s lots of fishing action across the state. It’s been slow going at Sitka Sound where about 20 seiners continue to tap on a 67 million pound herring harvest. A herring spawn on kelp fishery also is ongoing at Craig and Klawock with a nearly 38 million-pound harvest, the highest ever. Kodiak’s herring fishery is ongoing with a 16 million pound catch limit. Divers continue going down for more than a half-million pounds of geoduck clams. The sea cucumber fishery closed on March 31 with an allowable harvest of 1.7 million pounds. A ling cod fishery opens in Southeast on May 16 with a 310,700-pound quota. Prince William Sound’s popular pot shrimp fishery opens on April 15 with a 70,000-pound catch limit. The region also just wrapped up a small Tanner crab fishery. Kodiak’s Dungeness fishery opens in one region on May 1 with another opener following in mid-June. Cook Inlet opens for 150 tons of bait herring (300,000 pounds) from April 20 through May, and a smelt fishery opens on May 1 through June for 200 tons (400,000 pounds). In the Bering Sea, crabbers had taken nearly 80 percent of their 40.5 million-pound snow crab harvest, along with 62 percent of a 2.1 million-pound Tanner crab limit and 80 percent of a 6 million-pound golden king crab quota. Fishing continues in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for pollock, cod, flounders and many other kinds of fish. Sablefish (black cod) catches were approaching three million pounds out of a 43.4 million pound quota. Sitka was getting the most deliveries and paying nicely in five poundage categories: less than 2, $1; 2 to 3 pounds, $2.10; 3 to 4 pounds, $2.40; 4 to 5 pounds, $2.85; 5 to 7 pounds, $3.65; and 7-ups, $5.35 (h/t to the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits). Prices per pound for halibut reached $6 at Homer and $6.15 at Seward, although catches remained sluggish. Landings finally topped 1 million pounds out of a 19 million-pound catch limit with Juneau leading all ports for landings. And after five years of talk, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council could tap the brakes on halibut taken as bycatch by 18 Bering Sea trawl catcher/processors that target flounders, perch and mackerel. The boats are required by federal law to toss all halibut overboard as a “prohibited species” catch. Unlike other commercial, sport and subsistence users whose halibut catches fluctuate each year according to the health of the stock, the Seattle-based trawlers have a fixed bycatch cap of 7.3 million pounds. The council will consider basing that bycatch cap instead according to annual halibut abundance levels. Farewell to Phil Lifelong Alaskan, friend and mentor Phil Smith died peacefully at his Juneau home on March 30, surrounded by his family. He was 78. Phil served on the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission from 1983 to 1991. In 1995 NOAA Fisheries called on him to craft and implement Alaska’s first Individual Fishing Quota program for halibut and sablefish, a model for others to come across the U.S. Under his direction, a Subsistence Halibut Registration Certificate permit was created which enabled subsistence fishing for rural residents and Alaska Natives. Phil was invited to speak at international conferences to discuss that program and served as an expert for the U.N. advising Chile on its fisheries management reforms. His positive impacts on Alaska’s fisheries management, among other things, will last forever. In the words of his son, Crispian, Phil’s unique combination of incisive intelligence, encyclopedic knowledge, and boundless love affected and inspired many. He will be deeply missed. Donations may be made to the Sitka Summer Music Festival or Veterans for Peace Chapter 100 scholarship fund at Juneau. Heatwaves, algal blooms and birds, oh my! The Kodiak archipelago is featured at a virtual Marine Science Symposium set for April 19 to 22. Hosted by Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory program, it’s the fourth regional gathering that connects the island community to the science and research going on around it. The keynote speaker is Dr. Steve Barbeaux of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center who will describe how unprecedented warming in the Gulf of Alaska caused a cod crash in 2018 and a fishery shut down in 2020, and how the stock might fair in a warming world. Also on the agenda are brief talks on local subsistence harvests, harmful algal blooms, birds and crab. Register for free at www.alaskaseagrant.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Senate delegation battles Coast Guard over masks, administration over Russian seafood

The mask requirement for all persons aboard fishing vessels still stands and Alaska’s U.S. senators are adding their clout to have it removed. A Coast Guard a Marine Safety Information Bulletin issued on March 22 states its authority to restrict vessel access to ports and operations if they fail to follow the rules as defined by the Center for Disease Control. “Vessels that have not implemented the mask requirement may be issued a Captain of the Port order directing the vessel’s movement and operations; repeated failure to impose the mask mandate could result in civil and/or criminal enforcement action,” the bulletin says. The CDC mask requirement has been interpreted by the Coast Guard to apply to “all forms of commercial maritime vessels,” including cargo ships, fishing vessels, research vessels and self-propelled barges.” It requires “all travelers” to wear a mask, including those who have been vaccinated, according to National Fisherman which added, “Why commercial fishing vessels have been included in a requirement written for airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, trolleys, and cable cars has yet to be explained by the Coast Guard.” “Senator Murkowski and I have been pressing this relentlessly on a call with the Coast Guard commandant, a call with the White House guy who’s supposedly in charge of all the CDC issues, we had a meeting with the head of the CDC, we are trying to explain to them how, no offense, but just how stupid this is and how uninformed it is,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said last week at a ComFish forum. “And it could be a safety issue, not with regard to COVID, but with having to wear masks when you’re out on the deck of a ship in 30 foot waves trying to bring in gear or pots. So, we’re going to continue to work on that one.” “The CDC has planted their heels on this one as I understand it,” echoed Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Certainly, from a realistic standpoint, it makes no sense. So we’re on the front side of that conversation.” Vincent-Lang added that he is speaking with members of other coastal states and hopes to garner support to overturn the mask requirement. “I think to the extent that we can form some kind of a unified position on this issue across more states, we stand a better chance of changing it. Because this is a CDC guidance which can be changed depending upon how they get policy direction from the White House. And if they hear from other coastal states in addition to Alaska, they’ll probably be more inclined to do it,” he said. Feedback on the masking rule can be given at [email protected] Trade talk Alaska’s senators also spoke candidly about ongoing trade policies with Russia that hurt the U.S. seafood industry, and expressed hope for change under the new administration. Russia stopped purchasing any foods from the U.S. and other nations that imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses after its illegal land-grab of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Meanwhile, U.S. purchases of seafood from Russia have increased every year. Russian seafood imports to the U.S. in 2020, for example, topped 97.5 million pounds valued at nearly $1 billion, compared to 80.2 million pounds in 2019 valued at nearly $698 million. “I think it was the one area where the Trump administration was kind of weak. I thought we could have done more,” said Sullivan, calling the lack of action “a disappointment.” Sullivan said he raised the issue “front and center” in a recent meeting with new U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and called her “very impressive.” “I said, look, it’s just ridiculous. Six years! I mean, that embargo started at the end of the Obama administration and the whole Trump administration,” he said. “Meanwhile, most of their fish comes in almost duty free, and they’re taking market share from our fishermen in America. She’s going to look hard at this.” Murkowski added that she intends to raise the trade imbalance with new Secretary of State Antony Blinken and encourage him to include it in diplomatic discussions with Russia. “The fact that this has been in place for as long as it has, the fact that it has caused harm to our fisheries is something that the education needs to continue at different levels,” she said. “You’ve got U.S. trade, but you’ve also got the State Department with regards to the relationship that you have with Russia. This is one thing that I think we all agree we have got to have addressed. It has been going on for far, far too long and quite honestly, it’s untenable.” Both senators also said they spoke with the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor when they recently passed through Anchorage on their way to China and “pressed them hard to work on tariffs that the Chinese have put on our exports.” Murkowski and Sullivan also addressed many more topics at ComFish, including actions they are taking to mitigate climate change. View the full presentation at www.comfishak.com. Hatchery hauls Last year nearly 31 million salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries were caught in commercial fisheries, or 27 percent of the statewide harvest. The dockside value of $69 million comprised 23 percent of the state’s total salmon value. That’s according to the annual salmon enhancement report newly released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There are 30 hatcheries producing salmon in Alaska, of which 26 are operated by private, nonprofits funded primarily from sales of a portion of the returns, called cost recovery. There also are two state-run sport fish hatcheries, one research hatchery operated by NOAA Fisheries, and one hatchery operated by the Metlakatla Indian community. At Prince William Sound, where six hatcheries operate, about 15 million hatchery salmon were harvested in 2020. Those fish accounted for 70 percent of the total commercial catch that was worth nearly $27 million at the docks, or 67 percent of the total value for the region. At Southeast Alaska, 14 hatcheries operate, split between northern and southern regions. Last year, fewer than 4 million hatchery salmon were caught accounting for 45 percent of the total harvest and 52 percent of the value to fishermen at $18 million. Two hatcheries operate at Kodiak where last year nearly 5 million salmon were harvested worth about $5 million, or 11 percent of the total dockside value. Nearly all of the fish were pinks. The three hatcheries at Cook Inlet produced just less than 200,000 salmon valued at $585,000, or 6.9 percent of the region’s total to fishermen. Alaska’s combined hatcheries released 1.7 billion juvenile salmon in 2020 and are projecting a return this year of nearly 66 million fish. Get schooled! A first-ever, field-based Alaskan Aquaculture Semester in Sitka is being offered this fall to a dozen students fromAlaska and across the nation. It’s part of the University of Alaska/Southeast Fisheries Technology Program that has been preparing students for jobs throughout the industry since 2009 with classes focusing on aquaculture and salmon enhancement and fisheries management. The aquaculture semester adds in more direct training on the water. “Students will come here and be able to get 13 credits of instruction with courses in salmon culture and mariculture, and also in cold water survival,” said Angie Bowers, assistant professor with the Fish Tech Program. “And they’re going to learn how to drive boats and fix motors and tie knots and how to be safe. They will also be able to do an internship based on whatever they’re interested in. We’ll tour processors, they will be able to help out at local hatcheries and shadow fishermen.” There are three salmon hatcheries in the region where students will help with egg takes and learn about fish pathology and rearing prior to the tiny salmon heading out to sea. Bowers said students also will be introduced to shellfish and kelp farming. “Because of the timing of the semester, that’s not the typical growing season for kelp, but we will be able to identify species of kelp and make the seed string that gets out-planted on a kelp farm. We will be visiting an oyster farm and we’ll try to incorporate as much of that mariculture experience as we can,” she said. Students also can get certified in SCUBA diving within the University program that trains scientific divers across the entire system. The Fish Tech Program is the university’s only one and two-year, entry level applied fisheries program. There has been a 10-fold growth since it began 12 years ago in Ketchikan and graduates now work for agencies or organizations across Alaska and in the Lower 48, said director Joel Marcus. Part of the program’s success, he said, is that nearly all classes can be taken remotely. But the new Aquaculture semester will focus on being out on the water. Only 12 students will be accepted for the fall semester that starts on Aug. 23 and runs through December. Visit Salmon Culture Semester to learn more or email Angie Bowers at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut prices start strong but catch rates slow

Halibut prices for Alaska fishermen for 2021 started out significantly higher than last year, despite sluggish demand and transportation logjams in some regions. The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and two weeks later only 80 deliveries were made: 46 at Southeast ports and 34 from the Central Gulf totaling 355,524 pounds. Most landings appeared to be small lots that were purchased on consignment. The first fish typically fetches higher prices and then drops off as the season progresses. No Alaska ports reported paying less than $5 per pound whereas the 2020 price to Alaska fishermen averaged $4. Early prices at Sitka and Juneau, where there is daily air service, were reported at $5.50 to $5.75 per pound, up by a dollar from last year, and deliveries at Petersburg paid out at $5.75 straight. No ferry service and high costs for airfreight bit into buying at nearly all Southeast ports where major processors said they aren’t purchasing halibut until April or May. Fishermen delivering to Homer were paid $5.50 per pound, also up by more than a dollar. Other buyers on the Kenai Peninsula were paying $5.25 to $5.45 for 10- to 20-pounders and slightly more for larger fish. Reports from Whittier pegged the price at $5.50 to $5.75. Except for small amounts bought on consignment, few halibut sales were reported at Kodiak where the price was reported at $5 per pound straight. Pacific halibut from Alaska has been getting hit hard in recent years by fish from Eastern Canada, mostly Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with one Alaska buyer saying that region is now in the “front seat” for fresh market sales. Federal trade data show that in 2020, more than 10.5 million pounds of Atlantic halibut were imported to the U.S. from that region, valued at $70.2 million. Another 1.5 million pounds of Pacific halibut came into the U.S. from British Columbia valued at $22 million. Alaska halibut fishermen also are getting pinched from fresh farmed halibut from Norway which last year totaled about one million pounds, valued at $6.3 million. Halibut caught by Russian fleets and processed into frozen fillets in China also is making inroads into U.S. markets and underselling all others. In 2019 that totaled 2 million pounds, valued at nearly $7 million. Alaska’s catch limit for Pacific halibut is 19.6 million pounds. The fishery was extended by one month this year and will run through Dec. 7. New twists to seafood sales  Seafood sales set records at U.S. retail last year and the trend is continuing. Sales of fresh, frozen and pantry shelf items increased by nearly 30 percent in 2020 to almost $17 billion, outpacing meat, produce, and deli items. Perceptions of health and wellness are driving the surge, according to Seafood Source and a newly released Power of Seafood 2021 report from FMI-The Food Industry Association. In a national survey, FMI found that one-third of Americans ate seafood twice a week in the past year and nearly 60 percent said they believed upping their intake boosts their immune systems. A whopping 75 percent said they are eager to learn more about cooking seafood and want to be more knowledgeable about preparing and flavoring it. How and where seafood is caught also was important and 36 percent said they preferred wild-caught fish “because it is more nutritious.” However, preference for farm raised fish grew to 29 percent, up 10 points from 2019, with 35 percent saying it has better traceability than wild and is a healthier option.  “I believe there is more acceptance about farm-raised seafood due to more awareness about farm-raised options. Also, salmon is a major species in seafood and often farm-raised salmon is lower priced compared to wild-caught options,” Rick Stein, FMI Vice President of Fresh Foods, told SeafoodSource. The FMI report also showed that plant-based imitations have become more accepted by U.S. shoppers. Another report by Barclays claims that the fake fish industry is estimated to be worth $140 billion within the next decade, and could capture 10 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry. Nearly 60 percent of frequent seafood eaters said they are likely to try such products, while 31 percent said they would not. There also was a high correlation with healthy eating, and 62 percent cited sustainability as a major reason for turning to fish imitations. Overall, 71 percent of American consumers said they are concerned about seafood sustainability, with 41 percent saying it is a top factor in their buying choices.  That was most evident among younger consumers Seafood Source said, citing a survey by GlobeScan shared during a Seafood Expo North America panel that called it “a key trend among seafood purchasing.” Since 1999, GlobeScan has asked thousands of seafood consumers worldwide if they choose to reward companies that show they are “socially responsible.” Through 2017, about 20 percent said they would consider doing so, but in 2020 that number increased to 38 percent. The recent survey found that 70 percent of consumers want more information from companies about sustainability and 63 percent want to be able to trace their fish purchases back to a trusted source. But only 25 percent said they actually look for ecolabels on products, except for those aged 18-34. “That is something to really keep an eye on,” said Walmart Senior Manager of Sustainability Marife Casem. “There’s really a power in this generation,” she said. “They read not only the labels but the story behind the packaging.” “The younger consumer is really leading the way and influencing change,” said Kristen Stevens, senior marketing manager for the Marine Stewardship Council, which spearheaded the seafood ecolabel movement over 20 years ago. “I suspect we’re going to continue to see this momentum caused by this younger generation.” ComFish takes virtual to a new level  Kodiak’s ComFish Alaska trade show later this month puts the “social” back into social distancing.  Attendees can move in and out of forums and the trade show just like in-person events thanks to a new platform called Hopin. “It is not some boring Zoom meeting where you just have to sit and listen, it is nothing like that,” said Sarah Phillips, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, host of ComFish for 41 years. “Hopin is a completely immersive, engaging social experience. I think social is that key word that we've been missing out on so many of these virtual meetings.” Nearly 30 exhibitors have signed up so far for the event, scheduled for Mach 30 and 31. “It allows you to visit exhibitor booths, see what kind of specials and discounts they are offering, and engage face to face with the representative,” she explained. The forum line up provides the same opportunities. They include appearances by Alaska’s congressional delegation and state lawmakers, updates from the governor’s office, marketing, fishery updates, crab research, sea stories and much more. “Any questions that you type into the chat box will be answered by the moderator or the presenters. And afterwards, some of our speakers are willing to go into a private, face to face session,” Phillips added.  Hopin also provides for enhanced connections to socializing with anyone who’s registered for ComFish. “As soon as you log in, you'll be able to see every person that's registered. You can click on their name and request a video chat or schedule a meeting, the possibilities are endless. It’s just like if you were at ComFish and you run into someone you haven't seen in a long time and say gosh, I'd love to catch up. And if there's a few people you see, you can get the whole gang together.” Phillips credits local and corporate sponsors for enabling the Chamber to purchase the Hopin platform for ComFish. “People have really stepped up because they know the importance of this show to not only our community, but all of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.” Registering for free at www.comfishak.com also enters your name for prizes and a sneak peek of the Hopin platform. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Pinks drive projected increase in salmon haul

Alaska’s salmon harvest for 2021 is projected to be a big one with total catches producing a haul that could be 61 percent higher than last year, due mostly to an expected surge of pinks. Fishery managers are predicting a statewide catch topping 190 million fish compared to 118.3 million in 2020. The break down by species includes 46.6 million sockeye salmon (a 203,000 increase); 3.8 million cohos (1.4 million higher); 15.3 million chums (6.7 million more); 296,000 chinook (up by 4,000); and 124.2 million pink salmon (a 63.5 million increase). In its report titled Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2021 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2020 Season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides breakdowns for all species by region. Along with the projected 49 percent increase in pink salmon catches, Bristol Bay will again rule the day with sockeye runs to the region’s nine river systems expected to exceed 51 million fish and a harvest of 36.35 million reds, or 13 percent higher than the 10-year average. Other highlights: the Southeast Alaska pink salmon harvest of 28 million is predicted to be in the average range. The total all-species take for the region is projected at 40.2 million fish. At Copper River, the sockeye catch is projected at a meager 844,000 fish and 13,000 chinook salmon. For Prince William Sound, the total salmon harvest forecast calls for 59.7 million fish, of which nearly 55 million are pinks. Upper Cook Inlet fishermen are projected to take just more than 2 million salmon this summer, including 1.64 million sockeyes. At Lower Cook Inlet the all-salmon forecast calls for a harvest of 3.2 million fish, of which 1.8 million are pinks. Kodiak fishermen are expected to haul in 25.6 million salmon, including two million sockeyes and 22.5 million pinks. At Chignik, a catch of 3.1 million salmon is projected of mostly pinks. Fishermen at the South Alaska Peninsula could have an “excellent” haul of pink salmon of nearly 13 million. For the Arctic-Yukon Kuskokwim region, managers predict below average fisheries across the board, including a catch of just over half a million chum salmon. Grants for gear For more than a decade, derelict fishing nets, lines, pots and other marine debris has generated enough electricity to power over 44,000 homes per year. That’s thanks to the Fishing for Energy program and its partners who are now looking to gather more gear at no cost to fishermen or coastal communities through its annual grant program. Fishing for Energy is an arm of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which works with nearly 60 U.S. fishing communities in 14 states to help them dispose of old gear. Through March 2020 the program provided collection bins at 56 ports and collected more than 4 million pounds of gear normally destined for landfills, or which often ends up as derelict marine debris. In many cases, the old nets and pots are first sorted at Schnitzer Steel Industries where the metals are recycled into rebar wire rod and other specialty products. The remaining materials are converted into renewable energy at Covanta Energy-from-Waste facilities across the nation. Annually, Covanta converts nearly 22 million tons of waste from municipalities and businesses into clean, renewable electricity to power one million homes. Eligible grant applicants have been expanded to include non-profits, state, local, municipal and tribal government agencies and organizations, educational institutions and ports. Non-federal matches in cash or in-kind services are strongly encouraged but not required. Priorities this year include $15,000 grants for existing or new ports to install gear collection bins, or $10,000 to host gear collection events. Other grants averaging from $75,000 to $150,000 will be awarded for Capacity and Logistics Development for long-term fishing gear removal programs. To date, Fishing for Energy has awarded over $5 million in gear removal grants to more than 55 projects in 17 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Deadline to apply for the latest round of grants is March 30. Find links to an Easy Grants Help Desk at [email protected], or contact [email protected] Check out a video at nbcnews.com called Fishing for Energy, ocean debris turned into fuel in Florida. COVID-19 cash for more fishing sectors The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021that was recently signed into law includes $4 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase food and agricultural commodities for distribution, including seafood. A breakdown by Undercurrent News shows that the money, which must be used during the 2021 fiscal year, also can be made available for grants and loans for small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to COVID-19, including for measures to protect workers against the virus. The Act also will prioritize grants to “small business concerns owned and controlled by women, veterans, or those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.” Grants to eligible businesses will not exceed $10 million and also will be limited to $5 million per physical location. Seafood.com reports that grant funds can be used for expenses incurred as a direct result of, or during, the pandemic, including payroll costs; payments of principal or interest on mortgages; rent payments; utilities; maintenance expenses such as constructing outdoor seating; supplies, including protective equipment and cleaning materials; food and beverage expenses; supplier costs; operational expenses; paid sick leave; and “any other expenses that the Administrator determines to be essential to maintaining the eligible entity.” The Rescue Plan narrowly passed last week by a 50-49 vote in the U.S. Senate. Both Alaska Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan voted against the bill. Fish Board push back The state Board of Fisheries voted unanimously on March 8 to not double up its meeting cycle to include two Alaska regions, and instead advance them by one year. The board, which regulates commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in state waters, meaning out to three miles, would normally be wrapping up a roster this month that included 275 proposals for Southeast, Yakutat, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish. But the ongoing Covid pandemic curtailed those plans. “Starting in October of 2021 it will do its work session followed by a Prince William Sound meeting in November and December and the Southeast finfish and shellfish meetings in January, and then do its statewide all shellfish meeting in March of 2022,” said boards director Glenn Haight. In October 2022, the Board’s work session will be followed by a two-day Pacific cod meeting and then fishery issues for Bristol Bay and Chignik, the Bering Sea, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula regions. The doubling up faced push back from the public and regional advisory committees. “I think it was an admirable thing that the board was trying to get back on track in regard to the pandemic we’re dealing with. Recognizing the headwinds and navigating through the comments, I think it’s important that we listen to the constituents,” said unconfirmed member Abe Williams. The double up also would have cost an additional half million dollars in a supplemental budget, said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Haight advised that the call for proposals for Bristol Bay, Chignik and regions further west that were due on May 10 of this year also has been extended. “For anyone out there fastidiously creating proposals for those meetings to turn them in this May, no need to hurry as you’ll have almost a full year.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: More surveys out seeking COVID-19 impacts

It’s likely that no other fishing regions of the world reach out for stakeholder input as much as Alaska does to gather policy-shaping ground truth by state and federal managers and organizations. That’s demonstrated by two new surveys: one which aims to quantify how much Alaska fishermen and processors paid out over the past year to lessen COVID-19 impacts and how much relief they got from government programs; the other to learn what technology needs are tops with harvesters. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is collecting information not available elsewhere on the pandemic impacts. Processors are being asked about financial losses due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, plant closures and employment changes, as well as their expectations for costs and employment levels in 2021, explained Jenna Dickinson, a consultant with the McKinley Research Group who is working with ASMI on the project. Processor costs include but are not limited to charter flights and hotel put-ups for worker quarantines, plant modifications, medical and testing supplies and related services. Many fishermen also paid for similar coverages for their crews. “We are similarly asking permit holders about the financial impacts of the pandemic, their hiring levels in 2020 compared to 2019 (pre- COVID-19), their estimates for anticipated costs in 2021, and whether the pandemic has caused them to sell or buy permits, boats or other assets, reduce crew, stop fishing entirely or make other changes to their fishing operations,” she explained. Both processors and fishermen also are being asked whether COVID-19 relief payments covered their 2020 losses, Dickinson added. Data from the surveys, which will be revealed by early May, will be used to provide policy makers and other stakeholders a clear picture of the condition of the industry one year into the pandemic. The surveys are open through March 18. Find both at www.alaskaseafood.org under Announcements. Also, as part of ASMI’s ongoing work with McKinley to understand and report on COVID-19 impacts on Alaska’s seafood industry, a series of briefing papers is available at the ASMI website. The January brief, for example, describes COVID-19 impacts to global freight costs, how a surplus of frozen farmed salmon causes uncertainty for wild salmon markets, and anticipated hits to tax revenues for coastal communities in 2021. Questions? Contact Ashley Heimbigner at [email protected] or Jenna Dickinson at [email protected] Top tech needs Another survey by Seafood Harvesters of America asks U.S. fishermen to help identify technology priorities that can be scaled up to benefit all users. “This survey rose out of the recognition that the fishing industry needs a lot of advancements in the technology department,” said SHA Executive Director Leigh Habegger. “A lot of times we see vessels using technology that’s 10 to 15 years old and they haven’t really caught up with all the advances. Another part of this is that it’s not always clear how technology can be applied to fishing vessels as they are very unique platforms,” “There’s so much automation going on in terms of sensors that are uploading automatically to the cloud, and data centers in general are getting a lot more sophisticated and better able to predict where fish are to reduce bycatch, fish more efficiently and treat our product better. These are all things that are very possible with the current technology that’s out there,” agreed Edward Poulson, SHA vice-president and a spokesman for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “But being in the fishing industry, we’re pretty conservative. We know what works and we’re not super excited about trying things that we don’t know. That kind of keeps us more firmly footed in the 20th century instead of the 21st century.” “A lot of the technology innovations in terms of deck machinery, sorting tables, launchers, coiling machines, those are all things that were developed in the ‘70s and we’re still using that stuff,” Poulson added. “There’s been very little in terms of change but I think there are a lot more opportunities. Broadly scaling tech advances also is a big challenge to make them cost effective for developers, Poulson said, and something designed for a specific problem or region can mean the user group is too small. “If a tech company is designing something that is only going to be used for something difficult to build like an automated pot hauler, that’s super expensive and really hard to scale. You’re not going to have the market opportunity to amortize that over a lot of boats to build a big profit potential for a technology company,” he explained. “However, if you can show that there’s a lot of other fishing vessels in the U.S. that have some similar sort of a need, then all of a sudden technology companies have a lot larger interest.” “We have fishing groups as members all over the country so we can start to identify patterns,” Habegger added. “Maybe folks who are using fixed gear pots in New England might have some similarities with the Dungeness crab fishery on the West Coast. And there may be a solution to address whale entanglements across both of these fisheries versus trying to do this piecemeal.” The short survey includes tech advancements in four areas: sustainability, such as bycatch reduction and gear selectivity; safety; productivity, such as robotics and hybrid engines; and data usages and platforms. SHA hopes to gather responses by the end of May. A priority list and a report will follow along with plans to bring fishermen, tech developers and fishery managers together this fall to move conversations forward. Find the Fisheries Technology Survey at www.seafoodharvesters.org/our-work/ Fishy appointee Another of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s fishery appointments has raised eyebrows among stakeholders. Melvin Smith, an Anchorage real estate executive formerly with the Aleut Corp., will take a lead seat at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, which regulates fishing permits and vessel licenses across Alaska. The job comes with a six-figure salary. The appointment was not announced nor advertised. Coast Alaska reported that Smith’s name surfaced when it was sent to the state Senate for consideration by lawmakers. Dunleavy “believes he’s the best candidate,” spokesman Jeff Turner told Coast Alaska. Fisherman and former lobbyist Bob Thorstensen added it’s customary for someone close or loyal to the governor to be tapped for commissioner jobs. “Whoever gets that job is usually a pretty good friend of the governor’s people because it’s a choice job,” he said. The CFEC’s next big task is to determine the right number of permits in various limited entry fisheries, which was originally based on historical participation and may not be the optimum number for a fishery or region. Community grants American Seafoods is calling for grant applicants from Kodiak Island, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, the Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. The majority of each grant award will range from $1,000 to $7,500 for projects addressing food security and community social needs. Recipients will be selected by an advisory board on April 28. The deadline to submit applications is April 12. Fill out an application here or contact Kim Lynch [email protected]; 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

More relief on the way for fishing industry

Alaska fishing industry stakeholders can now apply for another $50 million in pandemic relief money, but they only have until the end of April to do it. The newest installment comes from the original CARES Act passed in spring 2020, announced by the Secretary of Commerce last May. The federal government made $300 million available across the states and territories with Pacific Ocean coast, with $50 million set aside for Alaska. Commercial fishermen, charter operators, processors, dealers, subsistence users, and aquaculture operations are all eligible. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, via the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, is helping to coordinate within the state. Rachel Baker, the deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said there were two main reasons it took so long. First, the department didn’t want to issue a relief program that would have an application window in the middle of a busy fishing season and wanted to include the fall fisheries within the window. Second, the department wanted to gather public comments on the plan, which meant two comment periods and revision time. “Those two things together resulted in a longer time to develop the spend plan, and to have a longer eligibility period for applicants to qualify in,” she said. “In hindsight, if we’d known there was going to be a second round of funding, I suppose we might have thought about doing it a little bit differently.” ADFG has been working on its draft distribution plan since last fall, with the first version of its plan out for public comment in October. Fishermen and other fisheries businesses have been eligible for other forms of aid, including the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, since last year, but this round of targeted fisheries funding has been long awaited by the industry. But even then, it’s a pretty small amount in the grand scale of things. Frances Leach, executive director of industry group the United Fishermen of Alaska, noted that after depressed demand due to closed restaurants and other retail sources, fishermen across the state saw ex-vessel value declines in the neighborhood of 25 percent last year. “By the time it’s all said and done, (the relief amount is) not a lot,” she said. “When you factor in the amount of commercial fishermen than we had and what we lost, our prices were the worst they’ve been in decades.” The distribution plan is largely based on past revenues compared with pandemic-related losses, with a few exceptions; the subsistence group will receive 5 percent, the aquaculture group 1 percent, and the sport charter group 27 percent. If the amounts had been strictly based on past revenues, the sport charter section would only have received about 5.5 percent, according to the final approved spending plan, which may not account for all the losses the sector experienced in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions. “Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15 of 2020, the Department of Fish and Game has seen a 54 percent reduction in nonresident sport fishing license sales compared to 2019, nearly $9 million in losses,” the spending plan states. “This dramatic reduction in license sales is only one indication of impacts to the charter sector.” Baker said determining the amount to give to the sportfish charter sector is not entirely based on a formula, in part because the state doesn’t collect the same level of revenue data from charters that it does from commercial operations. The allocation decision was based in part on qualitative information, acknowledging the fact that the charter sector heavily felt the impact of the pandemic from loss of tourism, she said. To qualify for funding, applicants have to show that they lost at least 35 percent in fishery participation revenue between March 1 and Nov. 30, 2020, as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic. Applicants have to have at least been fishing since 2018 and have to be able to provide documentation showing the revenue amounts. One change between the draft plans and the final is that applicants have to either be Alaska residents or nonresidents who did not apply for aid in another state or territory, meet all the requirements, and did not receive a Section 12005 allocation. At-sea catcher-processors have to apply to their homeport state, and nonresident charter operators who don’t have an Alaska business license have to apply in their state of residence. After administrative fees, about $49.4 million is available for distribution. Of that, $17.3 million is set aside for commercial fishermen, $15.8 million for processors, $13.3 million for sport charter operators, $2.5 million for subsistence users, and $493,711 for aquaculture operations. Each application type has a subset of requirements. Applications can be submitted on paper or electronically to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, but there’s a difference in deadline. Those submitting applications electronically have until April 30, but anyone mailing in a paper application has to postmark it on or before April 23. Any late applications won’t be processed. The December 2020 omnibus COVID-19 relief bill includes another boost in fisheries-specific relief funding, but the amount and distribution plans have yet to be finalized. Baker said the state doesn’t know the exact amount or timeline for new relief funds yet from that bill. She encouraged anyone with questions about applying to read through the spending plan, which is available on the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission’s website. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Board of Fisheries reverses decision to double up meetings

After the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the normal Board of Fisheries meetings, the members were left with a choice: delay all meetings by a year, or double up in the next cycle and try to catch up? On March 8, the board decided to reverse an earlier decision and postpone its meetings scheduled for the 2021-22 cycle to the following year, and conduct the meetings moved back from 2020 to its 2021-22 meeting slots. That means the normal interval between meetings will be delayed by an extra year, but it avoids the board members, staff, and members of the public from having to jam two cycles into the space of one. Now, the Southeast and Yakutat finfish and shellfish meeting, the Prince William Sound/Upper Copper and Upper Susitna Rivers finfish and shellfish meeting, and statewide shellfish meetings will be held in early 2022. That gives the board and staff enough time to put out a call for proposals and plan to hold meetings in person. Regular Board of Fisheries meetings are busy, often-crowded affairs. Stakeholders come from all over an affected region and participate in committee meetings, talk personally with the board members on breaks, and work in private groups on proposals during the meeting days. In the larger regions, like Cook Inlet and Southeast, the meetings can stretch up to two weeks at a time, with meetings running all day. In the fall, the board members opted not to hold this year’s meetings via teleconference or with limited attendance because of issues with equitable access. But in January, to avoid a yearlong delay, the board members voted to hold two meetings at once. During a meeting March 8, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang emphasized that the department does not have the money to do that. Estimates place the cost to do that at about $500,000, he said. The governor has not proposed extra money in the ADFG budget for that purpose. “It is not my intent to rob Peter to pay Paul to double up on meetings,” he said. “From the chair I’m sitting in, I’ve heard a lot of consternation and potential concern about doubling up on meetings next year.” Many of the public comments raised concerns about the plan. A number of fisheries trade groups, including the United Fishermen of Alaska, Kodiak Seiners Association, Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association and North Pacific Fisheries Association, wrote to ask the board to delay the next meeting cycle by a year rather than double up. Multiple commenters said they thought the doubling up would leave the ADFG staff and citizen Advisory Committees without enough time to evaluate and comment on the proposals within the cycle. Several processors also opposed the move to stack meetings, including OBI, Icicle, Silver Bay Seafoods, and the Pacific Seafoods Processors Association. They cited similar concerns as the fishermen, including a lack of time for public process and the additional funding for ADFG. “With stakeholder input unnecessarily compromised and ADFG limited in its ability to present data, Alaskans would be left without the regulatory system that traditionally based decisions on broad public input and the best available science,” wrote Abby Frederick, Silver Bay Seafoods’ Director of Communications. A handful of commenters did support the stacking, including the Chignik Intertribal Coalition. Chignik has experienced near-complete sockeye run failures in two of the last three years and the community wants the board to address the run failure sooner rather than later, wrote Chignik Intertribal Coalition President George Anderson in a letter. If the board does not double up on meetings, Chignik’s meeting will not come up until the 2022-23 cycle. “In Chignik’s fishing history never has there been such a collapse of both its sockeye salmon runs,” Anderson wrote. “Chignik is in economic and cultural peril. Time is not on our side.” Several of the board members who initially supported doubling up changed their minds, in part because of the cost problem. Board member Gerard Godfrey said during the meeting that he didn’t want to hinge the decision on the Legislature possibly approving funds. “I’m not interested in playing that game myself,” he said. “I’m not interested in waiting a number of months to find out whether or not this is feasible. And the overarching (issue) is that this situation is nobody’s fault, but the most equitable way to deal with it is to not double up.” Several other members commented that they would change their vote for similar reasons and because of the strain on staff to prepare. Several others noted that the board does have an emergency process, where if a fishery has a legitimate emergency come up out of cycle, stakeholders can petition the board to deal with it sooner, as long it as it meets the criteria of being unforeseen and a threat to the fishery. The decision to delay the meetings originally set for 2021-22 passed unanimously, and dates for the upcoming meetings in 2022 are still to be determined. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Setnet permit buyback bill moves from Senate committee

Legislation aimed at easing tensions and fishing pressure in one of the state’s most popular fisheries is already on the move this session after dying in the COVID-shortened session last year. Without objection, the Senate Resources Committee advanced Sen. Peter Micciche’s Senate Bill 29 to the Finance Committee March 8; the bill authorizes the state to buy back nearly half of the upper Cook Inlet setnet permits on the Kenai Peninsula from any members. Micciche, a Soldotna Republican who was also selected Senate President earlier this year, said during a March 3 Resources hearing that the plan for the state to voluntarily repurchase permits from East Side Cook Inlet setnetters was initially drafted by a group of sport anglers and commercial harvesters “who have struggled to work together for many years and now feel like they have a solution moving forward.” Resources chair Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, noted that public testimony on SB 29 generated nearly 30 mentions of support, primarily from East Side setnetters, and no opposition, which was a contrast from prior attempts to move similar legislation. “We’re finally at the end of our rope. Fishing families that have been fishing the East Side of Cook Inlet for generations are at the end of their rope,” Micciche said to the committee. “We want some of those fishing families to remain viable and give those that choose to be bought out an opportunity to move to other fisheries or to retrain for another line of work.” He also stressed that while SB 29 authorizes the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, or CFEC, to buy out up to 200 of the existing 440 East Side setnet permits via a lottery permit holders could enter if they so chose, it does not spend any state money to do it. As it’s currently written, SB 29 would allow East Side permit holders to collect $260,000 per permit, meaning $52 million would need to come from somewhere to fund the buyback program only after it is approved through votes from the Legislature and subsequently the setnetters themselves. Micciche and Ken Coleman, president of the Eastside Consolidation Association, said support for the buyback program among setnetters has grown in recent years as people gain a better understanding of its mechanisms and the need for it. According to Micciche, 95 percent of respondents to a survey sent to all East Side permit holders supported the buyback. It’s a means to relieve fishing pressure not only on the Kenai and Kasilof river sockeye stocks that are the main target of the shore-based commercial fishery, but also on the rivers’ king and coho salmon that are mostly of interest to sport anglers but are occasionally intercepted by commercial nets while hopefully leaving viable fishery for the setnetters that remain, he said. Coleman emphasized that a provision to permanently close sites that are bought out “is a prime feature of the bill” because fewer nets in the water would provide more harvest opportunity for those that remain and prevent a repeat of the 1980s when a string of large sockeye runs to the Kenai and Kasilof and high salmon prices drew many permit holders from across upper Cook Inlet to the East Side beaches. That shift decades ago has resulted in the majority of inlet setnet permits being on the east side where the vast majority of personal use and sport fishing pressure occurs as well. The $260,000 per permit buyback amount was generated from average gross revenue for permits over the past 10 years — just more than $20,000 per year — and $60,000 to cover likely tax liabilities, according to Coleman, who said each buyback amounts to permanently closing a small business. It’s generally believed funding for the program could be secured through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries capacity reduction programs intended to prevent or stop overfishing but the hunt for funding can’t start in earnest until SB 29 is passed. Management changes at the Board of Fisheries in recent years have also curtailed fishing opportunity for East Side setnetters in favor of in-river users and to limit the harvest of Kenai-bound king salmon during times of low abundance, such as now. “I think that people are frustrated and very worried about losing their entire investments,” Coleman said in an interview. Because of that, he’s confident the 200 potential buyback lottery slots will be filled if SB 29 is approved, adding that many East Side permit holders would use the money to gear up for fishing elsewhere in the state “where there are more lucrative fisheries and a more stable Board of Fisheries management.” “The regulatory instability and the biomass reductions over time, the competition for fish between all the user groups has made it very difficult for them to hang in and stay for the long-term so I think there’s a good appetite (for the program),” said Coleman, who is approaching 50 years of participating in the East Side fishery. He estimated the annual gross revenue from his site near the mouth of the Kenai has fallen roughly 75 percent over the last 20 years, but said he’s unsure if he would participate in the buyback. “If I could get 50 percent of the 75 percent back I’d be thrilled; I’d be viable again in terms of the financial picture,” Coleman said. Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Rick Green wrote via email that the department doesn’t have a position on SB 29 specifically, but department officials “see value in buyback programs such as this as another tool in our regulatory toolbox to manage fully allocated fisheries.” The North Pacific Fishery Management Council added another complication to the longstanding Cook Inlet “fish wars” this past December when the council voted to close the federal waters — areas at least three miles offshore — of the upper Inlet to commercial salmon fishing starting in 2022 after state officials said co-management of the salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet is unworkable following a federal court order that concluded the state’s management plan does not meet federal requirements. While the pending closure is unlikely to ultimately be enacted and would most directly impact the drift fleet, it would push the drift gillnet boats into state waters and further increase near shore fishing pressure and related conflicts. Coleman characterized the council’s action as one that probably had some impact on fishermen deciding to either support or participate in the buyback should it materialize. Scott Summers, a Kenai-area permit holder testified March 3 that his son has made more money fishing as a crewmember in Bristol Bay in recent years than he has owning an East Side permit and he would participate in the lottery. “It’s just not viable for us anymore the way it is. Something needs to change,” Summers said. “We’re sick of the politics; I think that’s why some of us support this bill.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Rare optimism as halibut fishery kicks off

The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and increased catch limits combined with a cautiously optimistic outlook for the near future have fanned interest in buying shares of the popular fish. In January, the International Pacific Halibut Commission boosted total halibut removals for 2021 by 6.5 percent to 39 million pounds for all users and as bycatch in fisheries of the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. That is higher than the total take for the past three years. For commercial fishermen, the halibut catch limit of 25.7 million pounds is an increase of 2.6 million pounds over 2020. Alaska gets the largest chunk at 19.6 million pounds, and all regions except for the Bering Sea will see increased catches. “People are thrilled to see that, hopefully, the tide has turned after catch limits for most areas have been declining for about the past 15 years. And they are happy to know they’re going to see some more pounds on their permits this year,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “By all accounts the market looks like it is warming up,” agreed Lisa Gulliford at Permit Master in Tacoma, Wash. “Interest and flexibility from both buyers and sellers is always good news and I am hopeful this trend will continue through the year.” The optimism over the apparent better health of the halibut stock is reflected in the demand for purchasing shares of the fish that is pushing up prices, Bowen added. It’s nowhere near the levels in 2017 when quota share prices in the Central Gulf of Alaska, for example, were at $65 or more per pound and now are closer to $45. Quota shares at Southeast that topped $70 are listed in the $45 to high $50 range per pound. The increase in halibut catches is one part of the equation; the other is what the fish will bring at the docks. “We were seeing some decline in values even before the pandemic hit, with increased imports from the east coast of Canada and halibut coming in from Russia and even farmed halibut showing up in Costco from Norway,” Bowen said. “So there’s more competition in the market place. And then the pandemic didn’t help with all the restaurants closed and the cruise ships tied up. Even with all that, we still saw pretty decent prices last year. In Homer, we probably averaged $4.50 a pound for the whole season. Considering the pandemic and the hit to the economy, that was probably a pretty good price. And we’re hoping to see a good price again this year.” Federal data show the annual average ex-vessel (dock) price for halibut has been decreasing since 2016. The price to Alaska fishermen in 2020 averaged $4 per pound and the value of the fishery totaled just less than $62 million. That compared to an average dock price of $5.30 per pound in 2019 and a fishery value of more than $87 million. Meanwhile, another good sign, Bowen added, is that boat sales are “brisk.” “I don’t know whether you could find a stronger vote of confidence in investing into these fisheries by buying a boat or buying quota,” he said. “So yeah, there’s definitely some optimism in the fishery in spite of this pandemic that’s going on in the background. It’s very encouraging.” The Pacific halibut fishery this year also was extended by one month to Dec. 7. The human side of halibut economics Who are the users of Pacific halibut and how do they use it? Answers to that question will come from responses to a stakeholder survey that aims to provide stakeholders with an assessment of the economic impact of the Pacific halibut resource in Canada and the U.S. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is the first regional group in the world to conduct such a study, claiming that understanding the human dimension is part of its mandate for optimum management of the resource. The survey assesses halibut users in commercial, sport charter, subsistence and processor sectors. It measures economic impacts from hook to dinner plate, employment and incomes, household prosperity and contributions to regional and national economies, known more broadly as multiplier effects. “So per dollar of landed fish, how much economic activity is generated and how much of this translates to wages and to the national GDP. (GDP is Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the U.S. economy and its growth.) That encompasses effects on wages, but also effects on profits by the businesses that are supported by the commercial or recreational fisheries,” said Barbara Hutniczak, IPHC lead economist for the study. The survey also includes regional spillovers to other areas. “For example, a vessel that is fishing in Alaska and benefiting from the Alaska-based halibut resource might in the wintertime be serviced in Washington state. So in this case, the economic effects will also be in Washington state because the marina where this vessel is serviced will have additional economic activities,” she explained. The confidential survey includes four main sections on vessel activities, revenue and quota use, labor information and vessel operating expenses. Hutniczak said responses are accepted on a rolling basis and the information will be updated continuously. “I would like to encourage stakeholders to provide the information that will benefit all the sectors and show the potential of each sector in terms of supporting the local communities and economies and various other aspects that can be highlighted through your responses,” she said. Questions? Contact [email protected] or 206-552-7693. Fishing mentors wanted The Young Fishermen’s Fellowship Program is calling for fishing groups or businesses to partner with young Alaska fishermen to help them hone skills in management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and more. It’s the fifth year for the Fellowship, which is an offshoot of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “The program is really energized to help young fisherman bridge the gap between the water and the waterfront and to help diversify their experiences within the fishing industry,” said AMCC Working Waterfront director Jamie O’Connor. “It has included everything from direct marketing to the history of fisheries to policy and whatever creative, meaningful project our host organizations can dream up. It’s a really great way for young fishermen to utilize other skills that they may have onshore.” The program has so far placed 15 fishermen under 40 in a wide range of mentorships, many of which have led to diverse careers. They are paid a stipend that usually adds up to $16 to $26 per hour, depending on experience. “Our fishing fellows have gone on to careers as fishery staffers in Congress, (Advisory Panel) members to the council, one used her time with the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association to segue into work as a fleet manager in Sitka for one of the seafood companies out there,” O’Connor said. She added that along with being a Bristol Bay fisherman, her Fellowship experience with the North Pacific Fisheries Association in Homer led into her current job at AMCC. “I think one of the main benefits I’ve seen to both Fellows and the host organizations is building those relationships within the broader fisheries community and the industries that support them,” O’Connor added. “It expands our fisheries network in a really beautiful way.” Interested mentors can apply through March 31 and a call for fishing fellows will follow. Mentors and Fellows will then be matched up and work out flexible schedules lasting two to five months. “If you have a project that you think could be energized by the efforts of a young fisherman, reach out to me and I can help you put a proposal together,” she said. Organizations and businesses can apply at www.akyoungfisherman.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Report estimates 2021 Russian salmon to double Alaska’s 2020 output

Alaskans are preparing for another salmon season of poor to average runs to most regions. The big exception once again is at Bristol Bay where another massive return of more than 51 million sockeye is expected. Managers predict that surge will produce a harvest of more than 36 million reds to fishermen. Bristol Bay is home to the largest wild sockeye salmon run in the world and typically accounts for 42 percent of the world’s sockeye harvest. Those fish and all wild salmon compete in a tough worldwide commodities market, where Alaska salmon claims 13 percent of the global supply. Farmed salmon production, which outnumbers wild harvests by nearly three-to-one, is Alaska’s biggest competitor; the other is Russia. According to global seafood trading company Tradex, Pacific salmon catches from Russia are projected to top 1 billion pounds in 2021. As a comparison, Alaska’s 2020 catch of nearly 117 million salmon weighed in at just more than 500 million pounds. The Russian catch breaks down to more than 700 million pounds of pinks; nearly 206 million pounds of chum; 70.6 million pounds of sockeye; more than 24 million pounds of coho; and 8.8 million pounds of chinook. Sockeye are Alaska’s big money maker, comprising well more than a third of the salmon fishery’s total value each year, and the market outlook continues to be encouraging. “The global sockeye market continues to strong and it continues to be a popular and a sought after product,” said Tasha Cadence, a Tradex spokesperson. That is borne out at home, said Rising Tides Communications of Anchorage which handles marketing across all platforms for the fishermen funded/operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “Despite a wild ride during a global pandemic, the BBRSDA marketing program had an incredibly successful year,” Rising Tide wrote in its annual report. “On the retail side, in spite of several pandemic-related retail promotion cancellations, we grew from 800 retail promotions in 2019 to 2200 in 2020 — a 175 percent increase. The average ‘lift’ experienced by our retail partners during our promotions grew from 34 percent in 2019 to 52 percent in 2020.” Tradex’s Cadence recommended that buyers “purchase enough sockeye for your future requirements if you want to continue to have a salmon program” and added that “prices are high but remain steady and we should expect pricing to remain this way until the 2021 salmon fisheries in Alaska and Russia start up.” In 2020, the U.S. imported nearly 4 million pounds of salmon from Russia worth more than $14 million. More than half was sockeye salmon, valued at nearly $9 million. And the competition from the “Great Bear” will only get tougher. Russia is making huge investments to increase and modernize its fishing capacity by building more than 20 new processing plants and 90 new vessels by the year 2030. The plan also includes the launch of a new marketing and supply chain strategy called “the Russian Fish.” And while that imported fish will compete directly with U.S. catches at retail counters and restaurants, sales have not been reciprocated and Russia has not purchased an American-caught pound since 2014. (The snub stems from a politically motivated embargo over U.S. objections to Russia’s incursions into Ukraine.) According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the value of Russian seafood imports to the U.S. has grown 70 percent since 2014 and has more than tripled to nearly $700 million in 2019, an increase of $11.5 million over 2018. And the Russian seafood comes into the U.S. almost entirely duty free. Water worries Alaska salmon stakeholders are expressing concern over the state’s plans to change the rules that regulate the use of water in salmon streams, and they are hopeful Alaskans will weigh in on the side of the fish. A Jan. 15 “Letter to Alaskans” from the Department of Natural Resources says the changes are needed “to provide clarity and consistency in the Division of Mining, Land and Water’s processes. “We absolutely agree that the rules need more clarity,” said Lindsey Bloom, campaign strategist for the advocacy group SalmonState based in Juneau. “The problem is that they’re proposing to roll the regulations back in the absolute opposite direction and create a lot more red tape and hoops for Alaskans to jump through who want to reserve water and streams for fish to ever achieve that.” For decades, water rights advocates have proposed a simple solution, Bloom said: a blanket reservation that states that a reasonable amount of water will automatically be reserved for fish. The onus would fall to developers to study the hydrology of a water system to prove their project would cause no harm. “Unfortunately, the Dunleavy administration is choosing to take it in the opposite direction, and make it very, very difficult to reserve the water for fish,” she explained. “They’re saying the assumption is there are no fish in a stream, and the fish don’t need the water. And if Alaskans want that water to stay in the stream, they have to prove it with up to five years of specific hydrological data and make an application to the state. “One of the things this does is take away my right or a Tribal government’s right or a fishing organization’s right to hold the certificate for the in-stream flow reservation. “And it says that even if I go through all of the investment and the work of perfecting an application and getting a reservation of water, then DNR will hold that water right. If that were ever to be challenged in any way, I don’t have any assurance or security that DNR would protect that water right into the future.” The Alaska Miners Association, in its 2018 policy statement, blamed “anti-development entities” for using in-stream flow reservations to stop projects. The AMA said the solution is to “place an immediate moratorium on processing applications and pursue regulatory changes to ensure that only state agencies can hold reservations of state water.” Alaskans were invited by DNR to make comments through Feb. 26 to Brandon McCutcheon at [email protected]/ ‘Frankenfish’ correction The statement in last week’s column that genetically tweaked salmon will not be clearly identified for U.S. consumers was incorrect. For years, fish maker AquaBounty Technologies has pushed back against labeling requirements identifying the fish as genetically engineered due to severe and ongoing backlash from Americans and major supermarket chains. But “Frankenfish” has lost that battle. In late December 2020, Sen. Lisa Murkowski secured language within the Fiscal Year 2021 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Bill that requires the term “genetically engineered” to be included in the market name of any GE animal approved for human consumption by the FDA prior to February 2019. This requirement will therefore apply to GE salmon products, which were approved by FDA in 2015, Murkowski press secretary Hannah Ray said. ComFish is on! ComFish at Kodiak is Alaska’s longest running commercial fisheries tradeshow and the 41st event will take virtual meetings to a whole new level. ComFish Alaska is scheduled for March 30 and 31 and will feature a new platform called “Hop In” that allows participants to interact and socialize with vendors, presenters and friends far beyond what remote users have experienced so far. “It’s a truly social platform that’s as close to being there as you can get,” said Sarah Phillips, executive of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce that hosts ComFish. Exhibitors on the trade show floor and forums all will be live and interactive, and attendees can provide instant feedback and break into their own chat rooms with friends among other special features, Phillips added. ComFish is still being organized and more information will be available soon. Send questions to [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Report finds increase in 2020 retail seafood sales

Seafood sales “are on fire” in America’s supermarkets and a king salmon from Southeast Alaska is worth the same as two barrels of oil. A troll-caught, 11-pound chinook salmon was worth $116.16 at the docks versus $115.48 for two barrels of oil at $57.74 each as of Feb. 3. As more COVID-19-conscious customers opted in 2020 for seafood’s proven health benefits, salmon powered sales at fresh seafood counters. Frozen and “on the shelf” seafoods also set sales records, and online ordering tripled to top $1 billion. Those are some takeaways from a National Fisheries Institute Global Marketing Conference hosted online by SeafoodSource News. Here is a sampler of what experts called “eye-popping” 2020 retail sales reflecting America’s trend to eat more fish. IRI, a world leader in market data, said overall sales at in-store fresh seafood counters jumped 28 percent to $871 million, led by salmon with a 19 percent increase to $2.2 billion. Fresh crab sales reached an “unheard of” 62 percent growth; other top 10 fresh items included cod, crab/seafood cakes and halibut. Frozen seafood had the biggest sales gains, up 35 percent to $7 billion. Frozen raw shrimp was the biggest winner in the frozen category with sales surging by 48 percent. Sales of pantry shelf seafood items rose by 20.3 percent to nearly $3 billion, with salmon products “soaring” 30.3 percent to $286 million. Despite the dizzying sales heights, the market experts pointed to some potential headwinds. Baby Boomers were the biggest buyers of on-the-shelf seafood and there is a need to engage with younger consumers, they said. And frozen seafood sales skewed towards wealthier households with annual incomes above $100,000, pointing out a need to attract lower-income seafood buyers. Growth across all seafood sales categories is expected to continue this year, but “the industry shouldn’t rest on its laurels,” IRI Senior Vice President Chris DuBois told SeafoodNews. As COVID-19 vaccinations increase, more Americans will go out to eat and frozen sales — the biggest gains from stay at home and hunker down orders — could decline. Online “e-commerce” seafood sales, however, are projected to be reflect double-digits. Call for crew The call is out for trainees who want to learn the fishing life firsthand. It is the fourth year that the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka has hosted the program that has drawn more than 120 applicants each year. The crew training is one way ALFA is attracting younger entrants into an industry where the average Alaska fisherman’s age is older than 50. So far it’s brought aboard nearly 35 new boots on deck by more than 25 skippers; 64 more have gotten advance on-shore training. “We provide an opportunity for young folks to either do a short term experience or long term,” said Natalie Sattler, program and communications director for ALFA and its Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. “Traditionally, a lot of our apprentices or crew member trainers are on longliners and trollers, but we do offer a shorter term experience, maybe on a gillnetter or a seiner for a day or even a week to just see how that goes. And last year, we had a couple of recent high school graduates who went out on a tender for the season.” Funding for the program comes from the National Wildlife Federation and Alaska Community Foundation Workforce Development, Sattler said. And while it attracts interest in the U.S. and globally, a priority is recruiting young Alaskans, especially from rural regions. “I’ve been speaking with folks in Bristol Bay who want to start something up, and we’ve shared our resources with Sea Grant. As part of our funding and grants a requirement is to try to get it going in other communities as well,” she added. Many new crew return to fish with the same skippers. One is troller Eric Jordan who spearheaded the training program on his own in 2015. He has so far mentored over 50 young fishermen aboard his troller, the Gotta, and says the future depends on them learning the right ways to care for the fisheries and the fish. “Finding crew with some experience who love fishing in Alaska is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole. One of the things this program provides is the taste of it,” Jordan said. “Deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” Training in grant writing and fishing policy and management also is offered, and 30 apprentices have contributed to the process so far through written or oral testimony. The new deck hands are paid for their work. The minimum age is 18 and the deadline to apply is March 1. (www.alfafish.org) Fishing updates Freezing February weather doesn’t keep Alaskans off the fishing grounds from Southeast to Norton Sound. In the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, boats are pulling in pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish. More than 3 billion pounds of pollock will come out of the Bering Sea this year, and another 250 million pounds from the Gulf. Prince William Sound also has a winter pollock fishery that will produce nearly 5 million pounds. Many Alaska crab fisheries are underway or soon to be. Bering Sea crabbers have taken about 17 percent of their 40.5 million pound snow crab harvest, and 30 percent of a Tanner harvest of just more than 2 million pounds. The golden king crab the catch was nearing 5 million pounds out of a 6 million-pound catch quota. A red king crab opened in Norton Sound on Feb. 1. No buyers mean the crab will be sold to eager locals. A Tanner crab fishery also will open at Prince William Sound for one month by special permit starting on March 1. Southeast Alaska’s Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open on Feb. 17. A million pounds or more could come out of the Tanner fishery from 75 crabbers. For goldens, 14 crabbers are expected to drop pots for a 76,500-pound limit. Also at the Panhandle, fishing continues for black rockfish and ling cod. About 150 divers are finishing up a 1.7 million-pound sea cucumber harvest and 50 more are still going down for over half a million pounds of geoduck clams. The Pacific halibut season starts on March 6 and runs through Dec. 7. Water watch The state wants to change the rules that regulate water in salmon streams. A Jan. 15 letter to Alaskans from the Department of Natural Resources advises that it is proposing “to revise its water management regulations regarding the appropriation and use of water.” The letter explains why the changes are needed and invites Alaskans to comment. Specifically, the Division of Mining, Land and Water, or DMLW, is proposing to revise regulations relating to the closure of water right applications, the contents of in-stream flow reservation applications, the issuance of certificates and the review of such flows, the procedures for temporary water use, public notices and hearings on critical water management areas, and definitions. The proposed regulations are “intended to provide clarity and consistency in DMLW’s Water Section processes,” the letter to Alaskans said. The public can comment on the water changes by Feb. 26. Find the “Notice of Proposed Changes on Water in the Regulations of the Department of Natural Resources” at the Alaska Online Public Notice System and on DMLW’s news website at: https://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/news/. Comments can be emailed to Brandon McCutcheon, Division of Mining, Land and Water at [email protected]/. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut commission boosts harvest for 2021

Pacific halibut harvesters got some rare good news last week: increased catches in 2021 along with a longer fishing season. At its annual meeting that ended on Jan. 25, the International Pacific Halibut Commission boosted the coastwide removals for 2021 to 39 million pounds, a 6.53 percent increase versus last year. It includes halibut taken in commercial, sport, subsistence, research, personal use and as bycatch for fisheries of the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. A total of 278 individual Pacific halibut stakeholders attended the meeting via an electronic platform. For commercial fishermen, the halibut catch limit of 25.7 million pounds compares to a take of 23.1 million pounds in 2020. Alaska gets the largest chunk of the Pacific harvest at 19.6 million pounds, compared to just more than 17 million pounds last year. All Alaska regions but one, the Bering Sea, will see increased catches. Here is the breakdown in millions of pounds provided by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer with percentages of change from 2020: Southeast (Area 2C): 3.53 (+3.52 percent) Central Gulf (3A): 8.95 (+26.95 percent) Western Gulf (3B): 2.56 (+6.22 percent) Aleutian Islands (4A): 1.66 (+17.73 percent) Aleutian Islands (4B):1.23 (+11.82 percent) Bering Sea (4CDE): 1.67 (-3.47 percent). A total of 6.29 million pounds is allowed to be taken as “non-targeted discard mortality” from all regions combined. The halibut fishery also was extended by one month and will run from March 6 to Dec. 7. Kodiak launches first oyster crop A Kodiak entrepreneur is introducing his first batch of oysters in time for Super Bowl slurping. Erik O’Brien, who grew up in Kodiak and has fished his family salmon setnet sites his whole life at Larsen Bay, has proven it’s a pearl of a place that is perfect for oyster-growing. His oyster farm is the fruition of a plan he put in place nearly a decade ago. “Larsen Bay might have some of the best growing waters we’ve seen in Alaska,” he said. “It is a relatively large body of water with an extremely narrow opening, so it’s very protected in a fjord. It warms up and it’s got our big Kodiak tides, so there’s a lot of tidal flow. And it faces Southwest Alaska, which is a whole bunch of wind with a lot of energy and stirring up of nutrients. That really seems to promote the growth.” The superb growing conditions have O’Brien’s oysters reaching market size in little over two years compared to the more typical four or five years. He also credits his floating culture system that will eventually span 20 acres. “There are black bags tied together on a long line with floats on one end of the bags and they float in four inches of water. And that has some other benefits, because my oysters are really clean as they’re on the top of the water,” he said. “Most of the nutrients in the water column are on the top where the sun is. And on top of that, the black bags suck up some extra solar heat. There’s a belief that those bags and that solar heat have led to the more rapid growth. They grow much faster than I anticipated.” Right now, O’Brien is only using about a half-acre site which should yield 150,000 oysters by September. His goal is to double production each year. “My farm layout is long and skinny, so I can put eight 600-foot shackles in one line, and the site is 160 feet wide and I can put 8 strings 15 feet apart, so I can have 11 strings. Each string can hold about 500,000 full grown oysters. So I could eventually have 5.5 million full-grown oysters allowing me to sell about 2 million oysters per year,” he added. The fledgling oyster farm already has put two people to work, which is another of O’Brien’s objectives. “Part of the goal was to create a sustainable business and bring jobs and opportunity back to our community,” he said. “In a very small way that has started, and I’m hoping that it will continue and I’m able to provide new opportunities for folks who want to live in Larson Bay full time.” Meanwhile, local oyster orders already are flooding into Island Seafoods, Kodiak’s retail store and custom processing outlet, a division of Pacific Seafoods. “I’m thrilled to be featuring Kodiak oysters,” said Ian Whiddon, store manager. “I’ve been selling live shellfish here at Island Seafoods for over 20 years, and I’ve always sourced them from other parts of the state or from the Pacific Northwest. So I’m really thrilled to be featuring local oysters.” Whiddon said they they are some of the best he’s ever tasted and he hopes Island Seafoods can soon help distribute O’Brien’s Kodiak oysters throughout Alaska and the Lower 48. Board of Fisheries back up Board of Fisheries meetings focused on Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish have been postponed from this spring to the fall. The board voted on the delay due to COVID-19 virus concerns at a Jan. 25 virtual meeting. “I’m just basing on the most logical assumption that this year, this spring anyway, is pretty much toast as far as how this COVID thing is going up and down. One day it’s good and the next day it’s not. It would be irresponsible to try and continue these meetings like we had planned,” said John Jensen of Petersburg, the only board member from a coastal community. The board focus on regional issues every three years for commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries. The current lineup includes 79 proposals for Prince William Sound, 155 for Southeast and 42 for statewide shellfish issues. The delay means back-to-back meetings for those regions this fall, possibly into next year, followed directly by fish issues for Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, and the Arctic/Yukon/Kuskokwim regions. No dates have been set yet for either round of meetings. The shuffle could cost the Alaska Department of Fish and Game an extra, unbudgeted $250,000. That would require a supplemental appropriation from the Legislature, said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. “I’m supportive of trying to do this, but I just want you to know at the end of the day that there’s going to be potentially some impact if we can’t get that money through the Legislature. And there is going to be some impact to board meetings as a result of divisional support attending those meetings. But again, we’ll do our best to try and power through that,” he said. Meanwhile, the status of unconfirmed Board of Fisheries members is still being litigated. They were not vetted or confirmed by state lawmakers due to COVID-19 cutting into the legislative session. Gov. Mike Dunleavy insists his appointees can remain, but Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said not so fast. “Currently we have four sitting members, three new members and one old member, that have not been confirmed and they are making decisions and some of them just don’t have the experience. And they have the opportunity to make monumental decisions affecting people’s livelihoods,” Stutes said during a United Fishermen of Alaska webinar. Stutes has filed House Bill 28 that would allow board members to participate but not vote until they are confirmed in a joint session, except under unusual circumstances. Stutes and Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said they feel strongly that the board appointees will go through a joint legislative hearing process. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ‘Blue Economy’ takes next steps; electric boat options grow

New ocean-related jobs, investments and opportunities will be seeded by an ambitious Blue Pipeline Venture Studio that connects marine business entrepreneurs with the technology, contacts and finances they need to grow. “The state’s blue economy includes anything that takes place on the water, most prominently the seafood industry, along with marine recreation, maritime research, waterborne transportation and much more,” said Garrett Evridge, a well-known fisheries economist previously with the McDowell Group and new research director for the Venture Studio. “There is significant opportunity to grow the Alaskan ocean economy,” he added. That might come from refinement of existing industries, getting more value out of salmon, for example, or support for new industries like growing seaweeds, or just being prepared for opportunities that aren’t even on the radar. Like what’s going to happen in 10, 20 or 30 years. “What can we do now to position ourselves for success? We have a lot of challenges and opportunities that we know are headed our way, like climate change and ocean acidification. What’s our plan for those? It’s part of growing a culture that can embrace change and identify opportunities.” The nonprofit Venture Studio is the first statewide program of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association’s Ocean Cluster that launched in 2017. It is modeled after a venture led by Iceland in 2011 that now includes over 50 clusters around the world. Last fall, the BSFA received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration with matching funds to help jump start ocean businesses and pump $1.2 million into Alaska’s ocean economy. Grant partners include the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Arctic Domain Awareness Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Moonbeam Exchange, AKWA-DC, and the Pacific North West Economic Region. Evridge said many people have great business ideas but they don’t have the time or know where to start. The Venture Studio will serve as a sort of “matchmaker” to connect them with capital, expertise and connections to get off the ground. “Some of the first things we will do is focus on all of the previous research that is available and then try to identify the roadblocks of why this specific industry has not grown,” he said. “One reason that I came aboard is the opportunity to focus on what other industries have learned that is applicable to us. The fruit industry, for example, has some pretty strong parallels with seafood processing with the picking and identification and inspection of apples. There are applications in the agriculture realm that are very relevant. But so many entrepreneurs or existing stakeholders don’t have the opportunity to focus on those things.” Evridge said his team, which includes Taylor Holshouser as director of business development, will focus most of this year on developing a robust Venture Studio and building a platform capable of delivering jobs, investment, and opportunities across Alaska. On a related note, NOAA Fisheries last week announced its “Blue Economy Strategic Plan” that aims to, among other things, “collaborate with partners to support the growth of American business and entrepreneurship that contributes to the development and sustainability of the blue economy across the U.S. that will help accelerate the nation’s economic recovery.” The agency added: “The United States is an ocean nation, and our future prosperity and security depend upon the understanding, health, and sustainable use of our Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes.” NOAA said it intends to expand and strengthen the Blue Economy effort by leading agency-wide initiatives in marine transportation, ocean exploration, seafood competitiveness, tourism and recreation, coastal resilience, aquaculture and developing an American Seafood Campaign, to name but a few. Plug in to silence and savings No engine noise…no fuel slicks or emissions. Would an electric boat be suitable for your marine business? Newer battery banks and hybrid options make it ideal for several uses and an Alaska resource can answer all your questions. “We’re more focused on low speed vessels that know where they are going every day and pretty much have the same routine. Some of the uses would be harbor port operations, work boats, tourism, recreation or rentals. And then, of course, fishing, especially mariculture,” said Bob Varness of Juneau who operates Tongass Rain Electric Cruise LLC and has been doing gas to all-electric or hybrid boat conversions since 2014. “Why wouldn’t you want to harvest your product with no oil sheen on the water? It only makes sense to have good clean water when you’re pulling in your kelp or oysters or whatever you do. And trollers or gillnetters plugging along at two to three knots; that’s an ideal application for electric motors.” Varness has recently partnered with builders and suppliers to bring more earth-friendly electric vessels to Alaskans. “We’re identifying ideal areas of operation, and then introducing electric boat alternatives to operators and providing them with information and education,” he said. “Then we’ll commence with design and identify the description of operation, the budget, the performance and the options to a supplier. At that point, the client, whether it be a fisherman or a tour operator or harbor administrator, can get a good idea if an electric vessel will work for them.” It is newer and smaller, high energy lithium ion batteries that make it feasible. Studies show they can reduce vessel operating expenses by 75 percent. “Some of the other benefits are you have no warmup or idle time, you hop in the boat and push a button and off you go. You have increased reliability, reduced maintenance, and quieter operations which results in less crew and passenger fatigue,” Varness said. “If you don’t have access to a plug in for recharging, you can go with a hybrid option and recharge your batteries while you’re underway.” There is one hybrid diesel/electric fishing boat in Alaska: the Sunbeam owned by Fabian Grutter who longlines and gillnets out of Sitka. Its diesel engine can charge the 70-kilowatt battery bank with an alternator in four to five hours of cruising “and then you shut the diesel off,” he told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. Electric boats also are “submarine silent,” Varness added. That could effectively remove the boat sound signatures from internal combustion engines that attract whales to longline hooks loaded with black cod. “Between an electric motor and some nice black cod traps, the whales wouldn’t even know you were coming,” he said with a laugh. Each vessel is unique and it is not “one size fits all,” Varness said. “It can be confusing and people may not know where to go,” he added. “And that’s our purpose: to help and facilitate with those transitions. If you want us to go ahead, we can put together a nice electric vessel for you based on your operation and your budget and deliver it to you.” Of note: Washington State is converting its three largest ferries to hybrid drives to reduce greenhouse gas outputs, and there are over 100 battery-operated ferries so far worldwide. Seafood without the sea San Diego startup BlueNalu, which is growing fish fillets directly from fish cells, has raised $60 million in financing to build a pilot factory and launch its seafood in restaurants. The three-year-old company plans to grow up to eight species of seafood, with mahi-mahi and bluefin tuna as its first products. Depending on federal approval, BlueNalu could roll out its first lab grown fish this year. Oily plastics The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 would, among other things, hold corporations accountable for wasteful products, phase out single use plastics, reduce wasteful packaging and reform the nation’s waste and recycling systems. Today, 14 percent of oil and 8 percent of gas is used to make petrochemicals, the feedstock of plastics. The International Energy Agency predicts that within 30 years, 50 percent of the growth in oil demand will be related to petrochemicals. That means we are extracting fossil fuels, not for energy, but for things like plastic soda bottles that we use once. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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