Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Survey reveals COVID-19 impacts for fishermen in 2020

The single biggest hit to fishermen from the COVID-19 virus is reduced dock prices, according to Alaska and West Coast harvesters, and 98 percent said their businesses have been badly bashed by the pandemic. That’s based on survey results compiled by Ocean Strategies, a public relations firm that focuses on fisheries that helped profile the Pacific region for a larger federal study. Nearly 400 fishermen responded to the short, confidential survey launched last November, said senior consultant Hannah Heimbuch of Kodiak. “NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) uses any information they collect on economics to report to Congress on how the industry is being impacted, the major trends they are seeing, and then that informs the decisions that Congress or other government agencies might make in response to those trends,” she said. In the survey, 82 percent said fishing is their primary source of income and 91 percent said their revenues have decreased by 15 percent to 100 percent since January 2020. A whopping 70 percent said they stopped fishing last year; 65 percent stopped for three months or less. Just 18 percent reported being back to full speed of fishing activity compared to 2019, and 63 percent said they did not see any change in the number of crew they employed. The Alaska/West Coast responses are included in a comprehensive report released last week titled Updated Impact Assessment of the COVID-19 Crisis on the U.S. Commercial Seafood and Recreational For-Hire/Charter Industries January-July 2020 intended to help businesses and communities “assess losses and inform long-term resilience strategies.” The easy to read report states that global COVID-19 protective measures that began in March contributed to an “almost-immediate” impact on seafood sales. The year started strongly with a 3 percent increase in fish landing revenues; however, they declined each month showing a 19 percent decrease in March to a 45 percent decrease by July. “This translates to a 29 percent decrease (in revenues) across those 7 months, as compared to 5-year averages and adjusted for inflation,” the report said. The impacts also are broken out by U.S. regions. A six-page snapshot for Alaska shows that total landings from January through August 2020 were 15 percent below 2019 levels, a drop of 695 million pounds from 4.74 billion pounds to 4.03 billion pounds. The reductions were due to a 71 percent decline in harvest volume for herring, 45 percent for salmon, a decline of 18 percent for halibut, and 29 percent for Pacific cod compared to 2019 levels. In contrast, crab, flatfish and rockfish harvests were up 3 percent, 4 percent, and 11 percent, respectively, compared with the 2015-19 period. The combination of lower catches and decreased fish prices from January through August 2020 pushed down the value of Alaska’s catches by 30 percent from 2019 levels (a decline of $436 million, from $1.48 billion to $1.04 billion). The largest decreases in value from 2019 included a 67 percent drop for herring, a 61 percent reduction in salmon, a 37 percent drop in halibut revenues, down 30 percent for cod, and a 17 percent decrease in the value of flatfish. The two bright spots compared with the five year baseline were a 17 percent increase in crab revenues and a 6 percent increase for rockfish. For the sports charter sector, “reports from the field suggest fishing was “well below normal levels” throughout Alaska, with some in industry estimating between 30-50 percent losses for the season.” “In the coming months and years, scientists and economists will work to obtain a more complete picture of COVID-19’s impact on U.S. seafood and the Blue Economy,” said NOAA Fisheries Administrator Chris Oliver. “It is our hope that this initial analysis provides a foundation that the industry researchers and planners can draw upon as they plan for the future.” Hatchery hit A push to close the Tutka Bay Hatchery in Kachemak Bay has drawn the ire of fishermen and residents far beyond that region. It is one of four hatcheries operated by the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, which produces primarily sockeye and pink salmon to enhance commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries. The draft of a review of the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park Management Plan finds that the Tutka Bay Hatchery, which has been in operation since the late 1970s, is an “incompatible use” in the park. “The plan addresses appropriate management for state parks. We understand the financial concerns, but there are just several legal concerns that exist,” said Monica Alvarez with the state Department of Natural Resources at a public hearing this past December. “The fact that it’s kind of authorized through a 20-year operating agreement; that is very long term, and the only thing that can be authorized in state parks are short term permits. So a 20-year term is a concern. The fact that the hatchery is operated primarily under cost-recovery is a concern,” Alvarez told KBBI in Homer. The fact that the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation within DNR will be tasked with adopting a new plan has raised eyebrows. Ricky Gease, appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy as head of Alaska State Parks, is a former longtime executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and advocated strongly for the removal of the region’s hatcheries, including Tutka Bay. “Concerns related to the hatchery have nothing to do with Ricky Gease,” Alvarez insisted. “They’re largely legal in nature. They’re concerns we’ve had for quite some time. Additionally, Ricky Gease is kind of recused from this process. And so he has not been part of any of the meetings associated with this management plan. He really has nothing to do with this effort.” However, Gease’s comments and testimony as KRSA director were incorporated into the new draft plan, KBBI pointed out. State figures show that about 42,000 hatchery-produced salmon were caught in the Cook Inlet commercial fisheries in 2019, worth an estimated $331,000 to fishermen, or 1.6 percent of the total dockside value for the region. According to the group Salmon Hatcheries for Alaska, closure of the Tutka Bay hatchery would eliminate 25 jobs, close the popular China Poot dipnet fishery, end sockeye stocking at several locations and starve both sockeye and pink salmon fisheries from Kachemak Bay to Resurrection Bay. Meanwhile, Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, has pre-filed a House Bill 52 that would declare the Tutka Bay hatchery an allowed activity within the state park. At a webinar hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska, Vance said she plans to introduce broader language that will protect hatcheries in general to make them compatible on state lands and ensure that Alaska’s hatcheries “will not be subject to political pressures or whims through every administration.” Public comments on the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park Management Plan were accepted through Jan. 22. Find comment links at Salmon Hatcheries for Alaska and at United Fishermen of Alaska. Fishing updates Jan. 1 saw the start of cod and other groundfish fisheries and the nation’s biggest catch – Alaska pollock – got underway on Jan. 20. More than 3 billion pounds of pollock will come out of the Bering Sea. Gulf fishermen, however, have chosen to delay their pollock start to Feb. 4 in hopes of hauling in higher-quality, schooled up fish. That will add another 250 million pounds to Alaska’s pollock harvest. A pollock fishery also opened at Prince William Sound on Jan. 20 with a nearly 5-million pound harvest. Trollers at Southeast are still fishing for Chinook salmon. That winter fishery ends on March 15. Divers are still tapping on a 1.7 million-pound sea cucumber harvest; divers also continue fishing for over half a million pounds of giant geoduck clams. A ling cod fishery also is underway in the Panhandle with an 856,000-pound catch limit. Kodiak divers are still going down for sea cucumbers with a 130,000-pound harvest limit. Crabbing continues in the Bering Sea for snow crab (40.5 million pounds), bairdi Tanners (2.1 million pounds) and golden king crab (6 million pounds). Looking ahead: fisheries for golden king crab and Tanners will open in Southeast Alaska in mid-February. At Sitka Sound, a spring roe herring harvest of 33,304 tons is projected although managers expect the catch will not top 20,000 tons. At Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay the catch in May is pegged at a whopping 42,639 tons. It remains to be seen if there will be any buyers for a roe product that has lost favor by Alaska’s single customer, Japan. The International Pacific Halibut Commission’s online annual meeting is set for the week of Jan. 25. A virtual Alaska Marine Science Symposium takes place on Jan. 26-28. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will hold its meetings online from Feb. 1-12. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

North Pacific pollock fleet preps for season after tough 2020

Skipper Kevin Ganley spent most of the summer and fall pulling a massive trawl net through the Bering Sea in a long slow search for pollock, a staple of McDonald’s fish sandwiches. The fish proved very hard to find. “We just scratched and scratched and scratched,” Ganley recalls. “It was survival mode.” Ganley’s boat is part of a fleet of largely Washington-based trawlers that have had a difficult year as they joined in North America’s largest single-species seafood harvest. Their catch rates in 2020 during the five-month “B” season that ended Nov. 1 were well less than long-term averages. They also encountered more skinny, small fish — fit for mince but not prime fillets — than in a typical year, according to a federal review of the season. Meanwhile, COVID-19 greatly complicated the essential task of keeping crews healthy as one company, Seattle-based American Seafoods, was hit with outbreaks on three vessels. The pandemic also resulted in the cancellation of some research surveys that help scientists measure fish stocks in a body of water that has been undergoing climatic changes as temperatures warm. This has added an unwelcome element of suspense as crews start their COVID-19 two-week quarantines before the Jan. 20 start of the “A” season. Though the weather often is rough, these winter harvests typically offer prime fishing as the pollock come together in the southern Bering Sea before spawning. But the disappointing fishing in the last half of 2020 has put Ganley on edge about what he and his four crew members will find when they drop their nets. “This is the best time of year,” said Ganley, who captains the 123-foot American Beauty. “If they are not there, we’re in trouble.” Ice platform During the past decade, the fleet’s average annual haul of pollock has tallied more than 2.88 billion pounds. The huge fish populations that sustain such harvests result from the remarkable Bering Sea productivity, which has been driven — in part — by seasonal ice that can act as a giant platform for growing lipid-rich algae at the base of the maritime food chain. In 2018 and 2019, amid a warming trend, there was scant winter ice, and summer Bering Sea temperatures — even on the ocean bottom — soared by as much as 12 degrees Fahrenheit. In those two years, fishery scientists noted all sorts of ecological changes, including pollock and Pacific cod migrating in much greater numbers to the northern Bering Sea and into Arctic portions of the Chukchi Sea. Biologists and Alaska Native villagers also observed increased die-offs of some sea birds and marine mammals. In 2020, an initial cooling trend enabled ice to form across a broad swath of the Bering Sea, and by March exceeded long-term averages. But the ice was thin and quickly fell apart amid storms and warmer temperatures. By early April, when longer spring days help spur algae blooms, it was gone from much of the sea. “That was the time of year when ice should have been near its maximum, and we had this dramatic fall off,” said Rick Thoman, a University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher who tracks the ice formation and movement. During the rest of 2020, sea temperatures continued to rise. Though the warming was not as intense as in 2018 and 2019, it still was well above long-term averages, and some sea bird die-offs continued, according to a federal ecosystem report. COVID-19 disruption In a typical year, a series of surveys by federal fishery scientists help assess the algae bloom, the distribution of commercial fish species and the abundance of copepods — small crustaceans that are a key source of food for young pollock. But as the pandemic took hold in the spring, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, headquartered in Seattle, canceled five of six research cruises amid concerns about the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks at sea. “After much deliberation we determined that there is no way to move forward with a survey plan that effectively minimizes risks to staff, crew, and the communities associated with the survey,” said a statement released in May by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But scientists still found innovative new ways to collect some data. Fishermen, for example, helped in taking bottom temperatures with equipment they brought on board their vessels. And scientists figured out a way to roughly measure the pollock abundance through acoustic sonar mounted in three Saildrones, which are remote-controlled 20-foot boats. They were developed by Alameda, California-based Saildrone, and are powered by a mix of wind, solar and hydro power from turbines turned by the motion in the sea. The crewless vessels left California in mid-May and traveled 2,200 nautical miles to the Bering Sea, where they spent much of July and August conducting the pollock survey. Alex De Robertis, a NOAA Fisheries scientist, said the Saildrones had previously been used for survey work in the Arctic, and he was able to quickly develop the survey plan for pollock when the pandemic took hold. He comes up with the survey instructions for the Saildrones, and then the development company directs their movement. “The whole thing worked liked clockwork. It’s amazing,” De Robertis said. Ganley said he twice spotted the craft — bright orange in color and with distinctive fins — as they crisscrossed the fishing grounds. Initially, he thought they might be piloted by some adventuresome sailors until he drew close. “I think it’s brilliant,” Ganley declared. “That’s our hope: scientists like that.” Information gap The Saildrones’ data made a significant contribution to the annual federal assessment of pollock stocks that helps determine the harvest level for the upcoming year. But the Saildrones did not have any trawl nets. So they could not replicate another part of survey work that involves netting fish and assessing their size, weight and age. That information gap means there is more uncertainty about what’s happening to the pollock stocks and why many fishermen struggled to find older, bigger pollock during the summer and fall harvest. Some of these fish may have moved farther north in a continuation of trends of recent warm-water years. But a planned trawl survey of the U.S. portion of the northern Bering Sea was canceled. Fishermen’s experiences of the past year also pointed to other ecological changes, perhaps resulting from the warming trend that has benefited some species that have moved into traditional pollock harvest zones. Ganley said he noticed far fewer humpbacks and other whales in the area where he searched for the scarce large pollock. And sablefish, also known as black cod, turned up in the nets of pollock fishermen in much greater quantities. The final fleet tally of these fish — prized for their rich, oily fillets — was 3,459 metric tons, which was more than 34 times the quantity caught just three years earlier. This was a problem because the tonnage far exceeded the pollock fleet’s allocation. Therefore, much of it — under federal rules — had to be discarded. “It’s tough. There were a lot of small ones that we were catching, and you had to pick them out of the nets and throw them overboard,” Ganley said. The pollock fleet’s dramatically higher take of sablefish enraged other fishermen who make a big part of their livelihoods from catching black cod with longlines set along the bottom with baited hooks. “This is unacceptable by any standards and threatens the health of the sablefish resource throughout Alaska,” wrote Raymond Douville, an Alaska longliner, in testimony submitted in December to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. “The trawl fleet is being allowed to trash one resource in order to profit for themselves.” Fewer shore leaves The pollock fleet started 2020 in a kind of splendid isolation as they worked the winter Bering Sea harvests with crews who left their shoreside homes before the COVID-19 pandemic had gained much momentum outside of China. But the risks of the novel coronavirus were demonstrated in May when an American Seafoods factory trawler, fishing for hake off the Washington coast, had one crewmember report feeling sick. Subsequent testing then indicated 85 out of 126 crew were infected with the virus. In the months that followed, the owners of most pollock boats — both the larger factory ships and smaller catcher boats — were able to prevent COVID-19 infections from coming aboard their vessels. That was accomplished with 14-day quarantines, which became the standard for all crews. American Seafood vessels initially had opted for quarantines of as few as five days, but after the spring outbreaks switched to the 14-day quarantines. The company continued to have problems in the summer fishing season in the Bering Sea when 85 of 119 crew members tested positive for COVID-19 during a stopover in the Unalaska port in the Aleutian Islands. That vessel then had to temporarily stop fishing and docked in Seward where infected crewmembers disembarked. COVID-19 also created new tensions in the fleet’s relationship with shoreside communities that are ports-of-call. Alaska public health officials were concerned about the potential for infected crewmembers to spread the virus in remote areas with few health facilities. Meanwhile, boat operators were wary that their crew might pick up the virus onshore and bring it to sea. This made port stops, once an opportunity for crews to savor a rare restaurant meal, far more austere. Ganley required his crew to stay aboard the vessel through most of the 2020 fishing season. He is hopeful that sometime this winter his crew can get vaccine shots. Until then, he plans to repeat the prohibition on shore leaves.

FISH FACTOR: Fish picks and pans for 2020

This year marks the 30th year that the weekly Fish Factor column has appeared in newspapers across Alaska and nationally. Every year it features “picks and pans” for Alaska’s seafood industry — a no-holds-barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst fishing highlights, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year. Here are the choices for 2020, in no particular order: Best little known fish fact: Alaska’s commercial fisheries division also pays for the management of subsistence and personal use fisheries. Biggest fishing tragedy: The loss of five fishermen aboard the Scandies Rose that sank southwest of Kodiak. Biggest new business potential: Mariculture of seaweeds and shellfish Ballsiest fish move: Fishermen in Quinhagak formed a cooperative of 70 harvesters to revitalize commercial salmon fishing in Kuskokwim Bay, including members from Goodnews Bay, Platinum and Eek. It’s the first fishery since 2016 when the region’s “economic development” group abruptly pulled the plug on buying local fish. Biggest fish challenge: Getting whaled. Many fishermen say they can lose up to 75 percent of their pricey sablefish catches when whales strip their lines. Best fish invention: Slinky pots. Lightweight, collapsible, inexpensive fishing pots that prevent getting whaled. The new gear is especially beneficial for smaller boats that can’t accommodate the hydraulics and 300 rigid metal pots on deck. Biggest unexpected fish boost: As restaurants closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people turned to buying seafood to cook at home than ever before because of its health benefits. Best fish straight talker: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak Best fish knowledge builders: Alaska Sea Grant Best fish feeder: Sea Share, with more than 220 million fish servings to U.S. food banks since 1994 and counting. Trickiest fishing conundrum: Balancing sea otters versus crab and other shellfish fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Saddest fish story: The loss of young fishermen Sig and Helen Decker of Wrangell in a car crash. Biggest fish missed opportunity: Wasting most of Alaska’s annual three billion pounds of fish skins, heads, etc. that could be used in nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and more. Such byproducts could be worth $700 million or more to Alaska each year. Cod skins produce about 11 percent collagen, nearly 20 percent from salmon skins. The marine collagen market is pegged at nearly $1 billion by 2023. Most earth-friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into oils and meals instead of grinding and dumping them, as in most Alaska fishing towns. Best Alaska ocean watchers: Alaska Ocean Observing System. Sea ice, water temperatures, ocean acidification levels, AOOS tracks it all. Best daily fish news sites: SeafoodNews.com, Undercurrent News, SeafoodSource Best healthy fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, SalmonState, Alaska Marine Conservation Council Best fish mainstream pushers: Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers on its mission to make wild Alaska pollock the world’s favorite whitefish. Biggest fish budget suck: Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Fairbanks. How much budget would be saved if scientists/students didn’t have to travel to reach the sea life they are studying? Why are those sites located so far away? “It’s the way it has always been.” Best go to bat for their fishery: Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, The fishermen-funded/operated group pays a 1 percent tax on their catches. They can use the money in any way they choose to enhance/protect/promote their fishery. The Cordova/Prince William Sound RSDA is the only other region to take advantage of this opportunity sanctioned by the state in 2005. Biggest fish broadsides: Ongoing trade tariffs with China and now, the European Union Worst fish inequity: The U.S. buying millions of pound of seafood from Russia since 2014 while Russia refuses to buy any U.S. seafood. Best eco-friendly fish advocate: Net Your Problem by Nicole Baker. One woman’s quest to mobilize Alaska to remove old fishing nets, lines and gear has expanded from Dutch Harbor to Southeast and most places in between. The plastic gear is recycled into new products from sunglasses to snowboards. Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, aka “Frankenfish.” Best Alaska fish writers: Sarah Lapidus, Kodiak Daily Mirror; Elizabeth Earl, Alaska Journal of Commerce; Margie Bauman, Cordova Times, Fishermen’s News Worst fish travesty: Cuts to commercial and sport halibut catches while millions of pounds get dumped as bycatch in trawl fisheries. Alaska can’t lay claim to having the “world’s best managed fisheries” until it gets its bycatch act in order. Best fish assists: Biologists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Best building future fishermen: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Deckhand apprenticeships, fishing loan payback programs for new entrants based on catches are just a few of ALFA-spawned programs. Fishing town that celebrates its fishing industry the most: Sitka Fishing town that celebrates its fishing industry the least: Kodiak Best fish boosters: Alaska’s salmon hatcheries. Worst fish slap in the face: The state opting to close salmon fishing in federal waters of Cook Inlet. Alaska co-manages several fisheries with the feds but won’t in the Inlet? Biggest Alaska fish beneficiary: Washington State. Seattle is homeport to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their livings in Alaska. Worst fish flim-flam: The Pebble Partnership for its deceit to Alaskans, investors, Congress about the scope of its mining plans. Biggest fish sigh of relief: The Pebble mine permit being denied by the Army Corps of Engineers. Baddest fish idea: Opening the Tongass National Forest to more roads and development. The Tongass produces 80 percent of the salmon caught in Southeast Alaska. Biggest fish fake: Plant-based seafoods such as “vegan shrimp” and “Toona.” Does fish best with least: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI promotes Alaska seafood in the U.S. and around the world with zero backing from the state. Norway, for example, backs its seafood marketing with more than $50 million from a small tax on exports. Biggest fish stiff: Alaska processors paying millions in out of pocket expenses for COVID-19 quarantines in hotels, chartering planes, PPE, testing and other protections and getting no paybacks from federal relief funds. Biggest fish slap: Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s selection of Board of Fisheries reps who live far inland, including a Pebble mine director and one who has zero knowledge about commercial fisheries. Dunleavy hopes to ram them through with no legislative or public input. Best fish lifesavers: Alaska Marine Safety Education Association Most disliked fish moniker: The term ‘fisher’ in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to be gender neutral. Best new buy/sell fish better: The Seafood Auction based in Kenai gives fishermen, buyers and hatcheries an easier way to do business online from a single location. Worst fish crash: Collapse of the Gulf of Alaska cod fishery due to four years of warm waters that wiped out several years classes. The stock appears to be making a slow comeback. Best fish boost for babies: New federal dietary guidelines for the first time recommend that babies be introduced to seafood starting at six months because of the health benefits. Pregnant women also are strongly encouraged to eat more fish to enhance their baby’s brain and eye development. Biggest fish failure: U.S. baby food makers who provide ZERO seafood offerings. Best fish entrepreneurs: Zoi Maroudas of Bambino’s Baby Food (see above) – frozen portions of Hali-Halibut, Salmon Bisque, Sockeye Salmon Strips; Arron Kallenberg of Wild Alaskan Company. More than 140,000 members are serviced from fulfillment centers across the US. Most inexcusable fish gaffe: “Official” trade data from the U.S. Trade Representative that lists “petroleum and coal” as Alaska’s top export, although seafood has been tops for decades. Alaska’s “other top manufacturing exports” are listed as transportation equipment, computer and electronic products and machinery. Top agricultural products listed are plant and livestock products, feeds and other grains, beef and veal. Who knew?! Biggest fish story: for 2020 Alaska fishermen, processors, managers and communities pulled off a successful salmon season along with other fisheries amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ComFish Division spared from cuts in latest budget

As Alaska faces its toughest budget squeeze ever, the state’s commercial fisheries are set to get a bit of a breather. But it is due more to fund swapping than lawmakers’ largess. For the Commercial Fisheries Division, the largest within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget released by Gov. Mike Dunleavy reflects a slight increase to $72.8 million, compared to nearly $68 million last year. “I think we did really well this year,” said Commercial Fisheries Division Director Sam Rabung, speaking last week at a United Fishermen of Alaska webinar. “Where we’re at right now, the legislature actually restored many of the cuts that we sustained in FY20 and the governor didn’t veto all of them so we got some funds back in FY21.” “In a nutshell, we are being reduced $783,500 in general funds but to offset that, we are being granted $855,000 in increased authority for using what we call GFP, our general fund program receipts from commercial crew licenses,” he added. “We’ve been collecting more revenue from crew licenses every year than we have authority to use. It’s kind of like creating a piggy bank and it keeps building and that money rolls forward. We’re going to be able to utilize those funds now in lieu of general funds. So it’s pretty much a wash.” Rabung agreed with Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, that the comfish budget still includes big reductions that were made in prior years. “We’ve reduced our budget by around 45 percent of operational funding in the last six years or so. We were cut pretty harshly for several years, and now it’s kind of flattened out,” Rabung said. “I think what’s apparent is there’s not much left that has zero impact on commercial fisheries. So, when you talk about cutting the budget to the bone, we’re at the bone and our hope now is that we’ll be able to stay status quo and tread water and keep things where we can continue to manage for sustained yield.” There appears to be a shift over the last two years, Rabung said, and the Dunleavy administration now recognizes that “commercial fishing more than pays its own way.” “The revenue that comes into the general fund from commercial fishing activity is considerably more than the Commercial Fisheries Division draws back out to fund our operations. That was not apparent to this administration and many others in the past when they came in, but they get it now,” he said. “I think the next layer of that message is that not only does commercial fishing pay for its own self, it also pays for management of subsistence fisheries although we generate no revenue from those fisheries,” Rabung explained. “We also manage personal use fisheries in the state. Ironically, in order to participate in a personal use fishery, you have to buy a sport fishing license. So the Sport Fish Division gets the revenue from that, although commercial fishing does the assessment and management for it. Commercial fishing as an industry supports an awful lot of other activities and may not get the credit they deserve for it.” “And for some reason, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission is also parked under our budget even though we have no involvement and we’re totally separate. In my opinion, they should be a whole separate entity,” Rabung added. (The CFEC issues permits and vessel licenses in both limited and unlimited fisheries, and provides due process hearings and appeals.) The Commercial Fisheries Division, which employs about 650 people across the state, also permits and oversees Alaska’s non-profit salmon hatcheries, the aquatic shellfish and seaweed farming programs and operates three laboratories that track fish genetics, pathology, and ages of fish species. The division manages some fisheries in federal waters under authority delegated by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. And because fish are migratory and cross jurisdictional boundaries, staff also are involved in the 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. Holiday fish boosts Along with the passage of the Young Fishermen’s Development Act last week, the seafood industry also got other boosts from Congress on several fronts. A $900 billion COVID-19 relief package also was passed by lawmakers in Washington and when it is signed by President Donald Trump, $300 million is earmarked to assist the fishing industry. Seafood also was finally declared as an eligible use for USDA food purchases for its many feeding programs; additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program also was included. The Save our Seas Act 2.0 was passed which builds on actions signed into law in 2018 to address marine debris problems. The bipartisan law, spearheaded by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, is regarded as the most comprehensive ocean cleanup legislation ever to pass Congress, and calls for global engagement to prevent plastic pollution. Save Our Seas will strengthen the U.S. response with a Marine Debris Foundation and a “genius prize” for innovation and new research. It also aims to enhance global engagement by formalizing U.S. policy on international cooperation and improving U.S. infrastructure to prevent marine debris through new studies of waste management and mitigation. The bill also proposes many efforts to improve U.S. waste management systems, particularly recycling infrastructure. For example, it creates a loan program for states to support trash wheel and litter trap technologies. Sullivan said in a statement that he already is looking to a third bill that would focus on how China processes U.S. recyclables. Finally, Democrats in Congress provided a first peek at the Magnuson-Stevens Act legislation they plan to introduce early next year. The MSA provides the “rules of the road” for U.S. fishery management and conservation. The reauthorized bill would maintain the eight regional fishery councils but require members to receive training on climate change and consider climate science in deliberations. Undercurrent News reports the bill also seeks to improve disaster relief programs, create a working waterfront grant program and increase support for seafood marketing, including re-establishing the National Seafood Council. It also would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NOAA to work together to increase seafood industry participation in the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Fish broth is a superfood Fish byproducts are rapidly growing in popularity and broths made from bones and other fish parts are becoming a rage among health enthusiasts all over the world. Bone broths are loaded with vital nutrients like calcium, iodine, and minerals and have been found to help support thyroid health. Its natural electrolytes boost muscle repair after workouts, but a top benefit is the benefits derived from collagen. “Collagen is good for your skin, your hair and bones. Some people claim that it restores gut health. Broth is a nutrient dense food that isn’t common in the standard American diet anymore,” said Randy Hartnell, founder and president of Vital Choice, a web-based seafood company. He said fish broth was common in our ancestral diet and is coming back due to trends favoring more healthy eating. “It’s sort of following the Paleo nutrition rage which has really been growing in recent years. We have seen many bone broth companies, but fish broths are not common yet so we are pleased to be able to offer it our customers,” Hartnell said. A handful of Alaska companies also are on the fish broth bandwagon. Rich Clarke, owner of Alaska Black Cod, makes his stock out of leftover sablefish carcasses. Ed’s Kasilof Seafoods features a halibut broth that was a winner at an Alaska Symphony of Seafoods competition. And Alaska Broth Company founder David Chessik hopes that one day his blend will be known as Alaska’s Coffee. Randy Hartnell pointed out another benefit to the growing popularity of fish broth: the reduction of fish waste. “The bones, carcasses and skins have always just been discarded,” he said. “This is a way to use some of those byproducts in a way that creates something that is so unique and healthy from sustainable fish from Alaska. It is another valuable aspect of this wonderful product.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Some bright spots for high-value salmon, halibut in 2021

Going into 2021, salmon fishermen have some unanswered questions and at least a few promising forecasts to look forward to. Following the trend of the last several years, the salmon forecast for the 2021 salmon season in Bristol Bay looks positive. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a total return of about 51 million sockeye salmon, with an inshore run of about 50 million. That’s about 6 percent better than the average for the last decade and 45 percent greater than the long-term average. If the forecast delivers, that would mean approximately 37.37 million sockeye available for commercial harvest, with about 1 million of those available for harvest in the South Peninsula fisheries and the rest in the various terminal fisheries around the Bay. For about the last two decades, Fish and Game’s forecasts for Bristol Bay have generally been conservative; the runs since 2001 have, on average, outperformed the forecasts by 11 percent, according to the 2021 forecast. The forecasts for various rivers in the region vary from Alagnak, which is forecast to be down 32 percent in 2021, to the Igushik, which is forecast to be up 13 percent. “Overforecasting returns to some rivers while underforecasting returns to other rivers means that the overall Bristol Bay forecast is often more accurate than the forecast to any individual river,” according to ADFG. Entering an odd numbered year might mean better luck for pink salmon returns as well. Historically, odd-numbered years deliver higher overall catches of pink salmon statewide. Southeast appears to be on that list as well, though with some caveats. ADFG estimates a return of approximately 28 million pinks, which is better than the average over all years but low for odd-year returns in the region. Salmon forecasts for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet have not yet been published. Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association is forecasting approximately 4.1 million chums to return in 2021, which would be significantly better than the realized return of 2.6 million chums in 2020. The association is also forecasting a return of approximately 4.4 million cohos, which would also be significantly greater than the 2020 return of about 2.7 million. For the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, the predicted summer chum return is about 3 million; Douglas Island Pink and Chum is forecasting about 1 million to return, with about 611,000 of that available for common property harvest. 2020 proved a difficult year for many salmon harvesters, with underperforming forecasts in many regions and unpredictable markets leading to reduced prices. However, retail demand for wild sockeye stayed strong, according to seafood marketer TradeX, and low stocks due to underperforming fisheries may mean an increase in price due to constrained supply in 2021. Restaurant and food service outlet closures pushed down prices for farmed salmon and directed it more toward retail outlets, where it competed with wild salmon. Prices stabilized over subsequent months, but an increase in COVID-19 cases across the country this fall led to more restaurant and food service closures, putting more downward pressure on wild salmon prices, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Halibut outlook Stock numbers in the Pacific halibut fishery are overall still declining, but there are individual bright spots in some regions. The results from the 2020 fishery-independent setline survey showed a coast-wide decline of about 1 percent, the fourth year of declines, according to survey results presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The trends individually varied from region to region, though, from an 8 percent decline in Region 2, which covers Southeast Alaska and British Columbia to a 1 percent increase in Region 3, which includes the Gulf of Alaska. Region 4 was not directly sampled in 2020 but projected to increase as well. The increase in Region 3 bucks a declining trend documented since about 2004. Pacific halibut catches and bycatch were down statewide in 2020, according to an analysis from the IPHC for the end of 2020. Total landings, including research, were down 6 percent from 2019, and non-directed discard mortality — also called bycatch — was down 23 percent. Recreational mortality was down 15 percent from 2019 as well. Unlike salmon, pollock and other seafood species that are exported, Pacific halibut is largely consumed domestically in the United States. That made harvesters in that fishery ineligible for tariff assistance when the federal administration offered some relief funds for fishermen affected by the ongoing trade conflict with China. However, halibut fishermen are eligible for pandemic-related aid, including in the latest round passed by Congress this week. The North Pacific Fishery Management council recommended a set of management measures depending on the final catch limits for the charter fishery in the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska as well. For the Gulf of Alaska, officially known as Area 3A, allocations generally include a daily limit of two halibut, with no annual limit per charter angler, Wednesday closures, one trip per charter vessel per day and one trip per permit per day. In Southeast Alaska, officially known as Area 2C, the management measures include a one-fish daily bag limit and a reverse slot limit, with sizes dependent on the adjusted catch limit. The measures also apply a 35 percent reduction in projected removals called a COVID Impact Buffer, as the pandemic has heavily affected the charter industry in Southeast in 2020. The IPHC meets in January to set catch limits for 2021. The meeting will be held online starting Jan. 25. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Federal Pacific cod harvest to resume for Gulf in 2021

Alaska coastal communities will get a bit of an economic boost in 2021 from increased catches of Pacific cod. The stock, which crashed after a multi-year heat wave starting in 2014 wiped out several year classes, appears to be rebounding throughout the Gulf of Alaska. No cod fishery occurred at all this year in federally managed waters (from three to 200 miles out) where the bulk of the harvest is taken, and a catch of less than 6 million pounds was allowed in state managed waters (out to three miles). For 2021, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council set the federal cod catch at just more than 38 million pounds and nearly 11.7 million pounds for the state. While it’s a bump up, managers caution that the stock remains very low. “The state waters GHLs (guideline harvest levels) have gone up about two-and-a-half times since last year. While it’s good, we are still at a very low level of abundance, so that should be kept in mind,” said Nat Nichols, area groundfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. “The model for at least the last year or two have predicted that 2020 would be the low point in abundance and then, based on assumptions of average natural mortality and average recruitment, the stock would begin rebounding beginning in 2021. The model and other indices are still seeing rebounds in cod numbers, not large dramatic rebounds, but steady incremental growth, which is good,” he added. One reason cod numbers have ticked up, Nichols said, is because of the fishery reductions this year. “Just by the function of leaving many, many thousands of tons of cod in the water you get more cod in the assessment,” he said. The cod fishery in state waters is carved up based on the federal harvest guidelines for five regions: Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Chignik, Prince William Sound and the South Alaska Peninsula. That’s then broken up into shares for different fishing gears. “For the most part, it’s pot and jig gear with pot gear generally taking more. The one exception is Prince William Sound where they have a longline fishery,” Nichols said, adding that each fishery has opening dates ranging from Jan. 1 into March. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fishery managers are making efforts to streamline the process of registering for the cod fishery. Nichols encourages fishermen to contact the Kodiak ADFG office with any questions. (907-486-1840) In the Bering Sea, P-cod catches took a 21 percent cut to 245 million pounds. Likewise, the Bering Sea pollock catch for next year was reduced by 3.5 percent to three billion pounds. Gulf pollock catches were cut by 2.4 percent to about 250 million pounds.   More fishing updates for 2021 Other forecasts call for Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon harvest next summer to be “average” at 28 million fish. Kodiak’s pink catch is pegged at a strong 22.5 million and an “excellent” catch of nearly 13 million humpies is projected at the South Alaska Peninsula. Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is projected to produce a harvest of 47,348 tons, the highest since 1993. The fish are valued for their roe and it remains to be seen if there will be any buyers, as the product goes to a single market, Japan, where low interest has seen prices plummet to as little as $50 per ton. Meanwhile, trollers at Southeast Alaska are still out on the water pulling up chinook salmon. Beam trawl and pot shrimping continues at the Panhandle, along with diving for sea cucumbers (1.7 million pounds) and geoduck clams. Crabbing continues in the Bering Sea for golden kings and Tanners. Red king crab is about a wrap and fishing for snow crab will get underway next month. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set catch limits when it meets virtually the week of Jan. 25. The deadline for fishermen to apply for trade relief is extended to Jan. 15. That’s the program through USDA that pays extra poundage to make up for losses from ongoing trade disputes. More trade troubles More trade inequities will bite into Alaska salmon, crab and other seafood in the coming year. That’s alongside the ongoing 38 percent average tariff paid for most U.S. seafood exported to China. The newest hit is a 25 to 35 percent tariff imposed last month on $4 billion of U.S. goods, including salmon, that goes to the 27 countries that comprise the European Union. The dispute stems from a spat over U.S. subsidies being paid to Boeing and competing European Airbus aircraft. “It is going to have an effect on our ability to get wild salmon into the European Union. With that kind of tariff, it’s going to make it pretty darn tough,” said Allen Kimball, head of global and domestic sales for Trident Seafoods. In 2019, Alaska exported more than $30.4 million in frozen salmon fillets to the EU, said Dan Lesh, fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group. “Of that, $13.2 million went to the United Kingdom, which is withdrawing from the European Union and announced it will not include the punitive tariff,” Lesh said. “Smoked salmon exports also are subject to the additional tariff, but that is a minor export product to the EU27, $341,000 in 2019, he added. “Those are the only two Alaska seafood products subject to additional tariffs under this Boeing/Airbus dispute.” Also, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that its food embargo on U.S. goods will be extended through 2021, according to the Moscow Times. Russia stopped buying all foods from the U.S. and many other countries in 2014 over protests to its invasion of Ukraine. Since then, U.S. purchases of Russian seafood have continued to grow. In 2019, Russia exported more than 80 million pounds of seafood to the U.S. valued at nearly $700 million. Undercurrent News reports that is a 7.4 percent increase in volume and a nearly 20 percent increase in value over 2018. Most of the seafood is Russian-caught red king crab, snow crab and sockeye salmon. According to U.S. trade data, so far this year Russia has sent 1.3 million pounds of frozen red king crab to the U.S. valued at $268 million; 3.7 million pounds of frozen snow crab valued at more than $282 million; and more than 1 million pounds of sockeye salmon worth $3.4 million. All of the products enter the U.S. nearly duty free. Meanwhile, SeafoodNews.com reports that Russian crabbers are upping the ante claiming they plan to catch almost 220 million pounds of mostly king and snow crab in 2021. By comparison, Alaska’s Bering Sea catch for golden and red king crab, Tanners and snow crab for the 2020/21 season totals less than 50 million pounds. Fish give-backs American Seafoods has donated nearly $2 million since 1997 to over 100 Western Alaska communities to “make sure they benefit from the industry in their backyard.” The company maintains a fleet of six vessels that fish primarily for Alaska Pollock in the Bering Sea and hake in the North Pacific. “It started because we recognize that our livelihoods and what the company is trying to do is really based on cooperation from the local Alaska communities. And this is about us supporting those communities that are helping us do what we do,” said Margery Schelling, vice president of marketing, strategy and innovation. “It can be for food and fresh produce for shelter residents, safety equipment, or starting a food bank. We did a supportive pet companion program for senior citizens and individuals living with disabilities, even playground equipment. It’s really a grassroots program across Western Alaska supporting the needs of the community, as are recommended by the community,” Shelling explained. Calls for donations go out twice a year that each total $45,000. “As responsible citizens, supporting the well-being of Alaskan communities is a way of giving back. It’s as simple as that,” said American Seafoods president Inge Andreassen. Another company, Alaskan Leader Fisheries, since 2009 has granted nearly $600,000 to nonprofit groups in Kodiak and Bristol Bay through its foundation. The company was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families who operate four freezer longliners, and was joined by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in 2007. Grant recipients have included schools and educational programs, food banks, shelters, libraries, youth sports programs, museums, and recycling efforts. “Our most important resource in rural Alaska is our people,” said Robin Samuelsen, CEO of BBEDC. “Many community efforts to provide the best possible opportunities for our families require financial support that is often difficult to find. These Alaskan Leader Foundation grants help provide the hope and community interaction necessary in facing the challenge of life in rural Alaska.” Closer to shore, Sitka-based Alaskans Own has distributed more than 533,000 donated seafood meals (302,000 pounds) to more than 100,000 needy families throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest this year and plans to continue doing so. The donation program, an offshoot of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was initially launched in March to address the sharp rise in food insecurity among local families due to the Covid pandemic. The need was increased when dismal salmon runs to many regions left family freezers empty. “We honestly didn’t intend to create a seafood donation program this year,” said Alaskans Own founder and ALFA director, Linda Behnken. “It just organically happened when we realized that many of our neighbors were struggling to feed their families nutritious protein and our local fishermen were struggling to get a fair price for their catch due to COVID-19.” The mix of frozen/portioned salmon, halibut, rockfish and more is donated by too many fishermen, processors, and suppliers to mention. Ditto the number of individuals, businesses and community partners who stepped up to assist with distribution logistics, including the Chignik Intertribal Coalition and the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska. Alaskans Own is continuing its donations into 2021 and hopes to expand to more Alaskan communities. To help sustain the program, it’s offering a special Holiday Gift Box featuring a variety of local Sitka products. Check it out at www.alaskansown.com.

Year in Review: Cook Inlet closure ends 2020 as top fisheries story

Even a normal year in Alaska’s fisheries can be full of anticipation, but this year’s pandemic, management snarls and underwhelming salmon returns threw extra knots into the nets for commercial fishermen. Late this year, after a record-breakingly poor season, Cook Inlet commercial fishermen got an extra punch in the gut in the form of a complete closure in the federal waters of the inlet. The North Pacific Fishery Management’ Council’s decision drew outcry from hundreds of commercial fishermen, both about the actual content of the decision and the process in which it was introduced. The closure was the result of four alternatives presented to develop a fishery management plan, or FMP, after a years-long process resulting from a lawsuit brought by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. In 2016, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the council had to develop an FMP for salmon fishing in the federal waters of the Inlet rather than deferring to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as it had been doing. After several years of stakeholder meetings and expert reports to the council, the members were presented with four options, including an option introduced by the state for completely closing the EEZ. The decision, which would block commercial salmon fishing in the entire EEZ of Cook Inlet — where estimates say about 20 to 25 percent of the area’s annual commercial salmon harvest is taken —is not final yet. The federal rulemaking process requires approval by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and could take about a year. If the closure goes forward, stakeholders say it could completely kill the commercial fishery in Cook Inlet. Members of the council said at the December meeting they regretted having to make the decision, but were left with little choice after representatives of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang’s office said the state would not accept conditions of co-management of salmon in the Inlet. In addition to fishermen and trade groups, the Alaska congressional delegation has called the decision unfortunate. The Kenai Peninsula legislative delegation, including Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and Reps. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Sarah Vance, R-Homer, spoke against the process and the decision to close the area. No. 2: Bristol Bay a bright spot among salmon harvests This year, the North Pacific failed to deliver for a lot of salmon fishermen. Copper River’s sockeye run, usually a high-value early fishery, was a complete flop. Managers had to close the fishery completely after several weak openers, leaving fishermen in the region with empty nets. To the west, sockeye runs started similarly slowly in Upper Cook Inlet and stalled completely when poor king salmon returns led to a complete closure for East Side setnets and restrictions for drift gillnets in mid-July. Commercial fishermen gnashed their teeth at the end of the season when the Kenai River exceeded the upper end of its sustainable escapement goal by more than 500,000 sockeye, according to ADFG sonar counts. Southeast posted poor returns in both chum and pinks, and atop that, pink prices were dismal. Bristol Bay and Kodiak were the only regions to deliver reasonably well for salmon, with Bristol Bay posting a total catch of about 39.2 million salmon, only slightly behind last year’s total. Kodiak posted a high pink salmon harvest, with about 21.2 million harvested. 3. USDA provides $50M in tariff relief Almost immediately after President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration announced tariffs on goods exchanged with China. In retaliation, the Chinese government instituted tariffs of its own on American products, including seafood. That spelled trouble for Alaska’s seafood industry, which relies on China as a major trade partner. The tariffs weakened the market for Alaska’s seafood in Asia, leaving it already vulnerable to the economic havoc wrought by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $50 million in tariff relief for affected fishermen in fisheries ranging from Atka mackerel and geoduck to Pacific cod and salmon. Notably, though, the relief excluded Pacific halibut and sea cucumber harvesters. Though halibut is largely solid domestically, sea cucumber fishermen were affected directly by the tariffs. The money was only available to harvesters, and is restricted only to effects linked to the tariffs. For effects of the pandemic, fishermen were directed to the CARES Act. The aid was capped at $250,000 per person and was open until Dec. 14. Total aid to individuals is based on pounds, with the price depending on the species. 4. Emergency declarations sought for multiple fisheries While some fishermen had bad years, particularly in the salmon fishery, none had it as bad as Chignik. With dismal sockeye returns for the third year in a row, the Chignik commercial fishery didn’t open this year, and escapement still came in less than the goals. The community has been waiting for federal aid from its last disaster, the 2018 season, and just heard back in February with $10.3 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Chignik may not be the only fishery looking for help with its disaster in the 2020 season. The Cordova City Council passed resolutions in August asking for federal disaster declarations for the 2018 Copper River king and sockeye runs and for the 2020 sockeye, chum, and king runs in the region. The year started off on a sour note for Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishermen as well, with a complete closure to low numbers of available fish. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council announced the 2020 season closure late in 2019, the first time the fishery had been completely closed. Biologists link the decline in the stock to warm ocean temperatures dating back to the “the Blob,” an abnormally warm mass of water in the central Gulf of Alaska that has had far-reaching effects on fish stock dynamics. The cod fishery also requested a disaster declaration in 2018 and received an allocation of about $24.4 million alongside the allocation for Chignik in February 2020. The disbursement programs for both fisheries are being managed by the Pacific States Marine Commission

FISH FACTOR: Wild Alaskan making major gains through digital

The Wild Alaskan Company based in Homer has taken “mission based” seafood e-commerce to a whole new level. While many Alaska fishermen and groups sell boxes of seafood directly to customers and can claim several hundred monthly customers, Wild Alaskan has notched more than 140,000 seafood regulars since 2018 and since COVID-19 hit, the company is adding 100 to 200 customers every day. The average order for their subscription service is $160 per month. Founder Arron Kallenberg calls it a “three generation overnight success,” referring back to 1926 when his grandfather moved from New Jersey to fish at Bristol Bay. “My dad grew up fishing with my grandfather, I grew up fishing with my father, but that being said, I was the nerdy kid that took his laptop out to sea in Bristol Bay,” Kallenberg said, adding that his grandfather, Robert, served on the Alaska territorial Board of Fisheries, as an adviser to the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission and wrote his Master’s thesis at Cornell University on conserving Bristol Bay’s red salmon fishery. Arron Kallenberg went on to work in the internet startup field for nearly two decades, mostly in New York City. A few years ago he chose to walk away and create a tech-enabled marketing and logistics company to sell Alaska seafood directly to subscribers. He assembled a team of data driven strategists and systems builders to create a company that now puts 40 people to work remotely across the U.S. “We’re a tech company that sells seafood, a digital fishmonger,” he said with a laugh. “We have the ability through social media and digital based, data driven advertising to attract members to the membership service. And we have an incredible amount of proprietary software that manages a very complex, nationwide frozen fulfillment network that allows us to ship fish across the country at very reasonable rates. “So it was those two aspects of the business that did give the company quite a bit of early success. And then recently we’ve sort of reached critical mass.” Wild Alaskan sources salmon, cod, halibut, pollock and more from large and small Alaska providers, and the mix of frozen portions in three boxed options is dictated by supply. The seafood is sent to fulfillment centers across the country, and a software network manages the inventory and orders to minimize both cost and shipping distance. The reduced shipping time also allows the company to use biodegradable packaging instead of Styrofoam. “Our software has some pretty sophisticated technology that will curate a box of fish for a member in one part of the country based on the availability of certain species inside the supply chain. But the flexibility that the software provides us allows us to decentralize this supply driven model in different regions. That’s something that’s pretty unique from an e-commerce perspective. Typically, e-commerce companies will have to maintain the same level of inventory across one or two facilities,” Kallenberg said. Reducing the carbon footprint from shipping is a primary goal of what Kallenberg calls his “mission based company.” “Our goal is to expand our warehouse network to the point where we can achieve one-day ground transportation to 99 percent of the country,” Kallenberg said, adding that Alaskan Wild plans to open a fulfillment center in every major metropolitan U.S. area. “Our mission is to accelerate humanity’s transition to sustainable food systems,” he said. “And I believe that Alaska can set an example globally. In order to do that, Wild Alaskan has to become a big business so that we can shift the consumption habits away from these unsustainable options into America’s own backyard. The carbon footprint implications of fish going round trip to another country and back, or farmed salmon coming in from another country are ridiculous,” he said. Kallenberg believes the U.S. has “unknowingly downgraded its seafood supply” by importing up to 90 percent of its seafood, and exporting most of its own to other countries. “We export the best and import the worst,” he said. Wild Alaskan Company intends to change that pattern. Young fishermen get federal nod U.S. fishermen will soon be eligible to receive training and financial benefits long enjoyed by farmers and ranchers. The Young Fishermen’s Development Act sailed through Congress last week with a simple voice vote because of bipartisan support, according to REP. Don Young’s office. Modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that can be traced back to 1862, the Act creates the first federal program dedicated to enabling future generations of fishermen. This bill directs the National Sea Grant office under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a program through the Commerce Department that provides for a competitive grants program for state, tribal, local, or regional networks or partnerships; a mentorship/apprenticeship program with older fishermen; financial support for training and education in sustainable fishing practices, marine stewardship, business and technical initiatives. “We are thrilled,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in response to the bill’s passage. ALFA was part of a national Fishing Communities Coalition which helped herd the Act through Congress over two years. “Alaska’s congressional delegation played the lead role in advancing this legislation, building bi-partisan support for an important industry and Alaska’s number one private sector employer,” Behnken added. “We are celebrating a brighter future for our industry and our young fishermen. Huge thanks to Senator Sullivan, Senator Murkowski, Congressman Young and their hard working staff!” The $2 million program will be paid out over six years and is funded by fishing fines; so in a way, fishermen are picking up the tab themselves. By comparison, mandatory federal backing for ranchers and farmers (including aquaculture) is $15 million for this fiscal year, $17.5 million for fiscal year 22 and $25 million for fiscal year 23. Southeast does Dungies Panhandle crabbers pulled up their second best Dungeness catch ever in combined summer and fall fisheries. A fleet of 104 crabbers pulled up 790,000 pounds during the two-month fishery that ended on Nov. 30, down slightly from catches that typically are closer to one million pounds. Also down was the number of participants which usually approach 200, likely due to a low price. Selling the crab at the dock helped boost the price from $1.68 per pound paid during the summer fishery, said Adam Messmer, a shellfish manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Douglas. “There was definitely a few more boats selling off the dock which bumps the average price up a little bit. For the fall, we had $1.91 so it was up a bit from the summer,” he said. The average price for the 2019 season was $3.07 per pound for Dungeness, which weigh two pounds on average. Still, combined with the summer Dungeness fishery it adds up to a near record catch for 2020. “With the fall season, we’re at almost 6.7 million pounds which is the second highest on record,” Messmer said. Southeast’s highest Dungeness catch was 7.3 million pounds in 2002. The most valuable harvest was in 2019 at $16.3 million to fishermen on a 5.3 million pound harvest. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Empty freezers bode well for 2021 prices

A lack of fish in the freezers is an encouraging sign for Alaska salmon as we head into the new year, driven by increasing customer demand. But headwinds from trade disputes and the COVID-19 pandemic also loom large on the 2021 horizon. Those are some prime takeaways shared by Mark Palmer, president and CEO of OBI Seafoods, and Allen Kimball, vice president of global operations and sales for Trident Seafoods. “We don’t see entering the 2021 season with any real big carryovers. And that’s always one of the downsides as we head into a new season, if there’s an abundance of two- to four-(pound) sockeyes or something. We’ve gone into seasons like that and it influences the new season pricing. But as we go into 2021, we should have a pretty clean slate and be ready to buy and ideally put it up in a better product form than we did this last year,” said Palmer, speaking at a webinar hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska. The COVID-19 pandemic this year forced a shift from workers producing fresh salmon fillets to lower value canned and frozen fish when the labor force was reduced and costly restrictions were imposed on processing lines. Kimball added that while he was “a little more conservative,” his outlook was fairly optimistic. “We don’t have inventories around and we have good demand,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of adjustments and positive things in terms of the demand at retail and it’s going to continue. And if we get this food service piece back to full giddy up, I think it’s going to be quite good.” Nationally, people are buying more seafood at grocery stores than ever before, added Palmer. And while lower in value, all that pack put up by Alaska processors fits the bill. “The type of seafood they’re buying is more canned and frozen products and that’s where we’ve really seen some great market share gains,” he explained. “It’s probably one of the best times to be a frozen seller and to get new value added products in the market.” With COVID-19 crippling the food service sector, Palmer said farmed fish has flooded into retail outlets and forced a downward press on salmon prices. “These aquaculture produced salmon had a huge piece of the food service market and as that evaporated, they’re still pulling fish out of the water. We’ve watched that industry go after the retail market more aggressively than they ever have. They’ve got the fish and they’re going to find someplace to move it. We’ve watched prices go down, so we’re slugging it out every day to keep our products on the shelf,” he said. Roughly 75 percent of the world’s salmon is now farmed, added Kimball. But both men emphasized Alaska’s biggest market competition comes from Russia. “When we’re negotiating with some of our bigger export markets, whether it’s salmon or whitefish, all of these global markets influence that,” Palmer said. “For the last four years, Russia has had these huge production years on pink salmon and solid sockeye and chum production. That’s what’s really driven the market. Trying to put up product forms where we don’t have to directly compete against Russia has been important.” Both also bemoaned the trade imbalance that allows Russian-caught fish into U.S. markets while that country has not purchased a U.S. pound since 2014. “Russia has open access to our markets with no restrictions. I just don’t understand the fairness of this,” Palmer said. “We would rather just see open markets. We will compete against anyone, but if they’re not going to give us access to their market, they shouldn’t have unfettered access to ours.” “If we can’t sell our fish in Russia, they shouldn’t be able to sell their fish in the United States,” echoed Kimball. “I think that’s going to continue to be a battle. We’ll have to see with the next administration how that’s going to materialize. But I anticipate that we’re going to have to be at the table really early and carefully to make sure that we get our voices heard in this particular issue.” Both men said that dealing with trade wars and currency fluctuations over the past several years “has been a big nightmare.” Tariff activity since 2018 on various fish ranges between 35 percent and 45 percent going into China, Kimball said, and a new 35 percent tariff has been imposed on Alaska salmon going to Europe stemming from a government dispute over airplane subsidies. “It is going to have an effect on our ability to get wild salmon into the European Union. With that kind of tariff, it’s going to make it pretty darn tough,” said Kimball. “But I would say that with many of these tariff challenges, what we’ve seen in China and other countries, the dynamics of this could change. So we’re heavily working on this from a political position standpoint. But if this remains, there is no question it’s going to have a big influence on fish next year.” The ongoing influence of the COVID-19 pandemic also remains a question. Most seafood companies picked up the tab this year to charter planes to transport tens of thousands of processing workers, rent hotel rooms for 14-day quarantines, purchase testing and prevention equipment in costs not reimbursed by federal relief funds. More strict state requirements for preventive protocols are already extended into 2021. “In fact, they’ve been expanded,” said Kimball. “We are all working with the state on surveying our community work forces and factories at places that operate year round, and we have to go to continuous monitoring of our employees there, including testing. So the handling of the workforce is getting more expensive, not less, as we head into 2021. It’s just a big unknown at this point.” Share the Sea Two million pounds of seafood turns into 8 million meals at Feeding America food bank networks across the nation. That’s how much the Seattle-based nonprofit SeaShare has donated to Lower 48 states so far this year. Alaskans in dozens of remote communities also share in the seafood bounty. “I think we’re at 180,000 pounds which is over 720,000 servings this year, which is more than we normally do,” said SeaShare Executive Director Jim Harmon. SeaShare has positioned freezers full of fish in regional hubs at Juneau, Kodiak, Anchorage, the Mat-Su, Kenai, Dillingham and Kotzebue that allows distribution to remote communities. The program began in 1994 with bycatch donations from boats fishing the Bering Sea and has since expanded in the Gulf of Alaska to include 136 vessels, 12 shoreside processors, 34 catcher processors and three motherships. To date, it has delivered more than 220 million seafood servings of fish to U.S. food bank networks. SeaShare is the only group authorized to receive bycatch donations which today make up about 20 percent of the fish; the rest includes a wide array of smelt, halibut steaks, salmon burgers, breaded pollock portions and more, all processed and donated by seafood companies. “The nice thing is that the donations that the fishermen and processors make, it enables us to bring in other donations of freight, cold storage, packaging, and those things they wouldn’t be able to donate if we didn’t have the fish,” Harmon said. Good protein is the hardest item to source and the demand on food banks has soared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The clients that go to food banks have doubled this year. I believe 22 percent of Americans are accessing food banks and that’s unprecedented. That’s an incredible need,” Harmon said. With many federal and state relief programs set to expire at the end of December, pressure will grow as food banks struggle to keep up with. There are all kinds of restrictions in place and volunteers have really dropped off, which most food banks rely on to distribute the hand outs and segregate all the different donations that come in,” Harmon said. “It’s scary to think about. It’s going to come right after the holidays when those extra services run out.” Donations are more important than ever to fill the seafood pipeline. Harmon said every one dollar donated to SeaShare equals eight seafood servings to hungry Americans. www.seashare.org Fish skins cure Fish skins that help regenerate human tissue have garnered a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Defense Department to make them available to wounded soldiers. It’s the third grant the Icelandic company Kerecis has received from the Defense Department’s Combat Casualty Care Research Program (JPC-6). Kerecis has pioneered and patented the omega 3 fish skins that need minimal processing and provide an infection barrier while enabling the body to regrow its own tissues. The skins already are used around the world in hospitals and by health care workers and consumers. Now, Kerecis will create field kits for use by the U.S. military. The company says it “harnesses nature’s own remedies,” in this case the Omega-3 fatty acids and collagen found in cod fish skins. And because no disease-transfer risk exists between cold-water fish and humans, the skins are ideal for treating soldiers in the field. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and supports everything from our skin and bones to our toenails, and marine collagen is the same kind. While the marine collagen market is pegged to reach nearly $1 billion by 2023, Alaska’s skins are still dumped as wastes. For Alaska pollock, with catch volumes averaging more than three billion pounds a year, that adds up to more than 1.4 million pounds of skins, assuming a five percent yield, according to economist Dan Lesh of McKinley Research Group (formerly McDowell Group). Pacific cod could produce nearly 1.4 million pounds of skins. The skin yield is in the 8 to 10 percent range for Alaska salmon. And they are loaded with healing goods: Studies show cod skins produce about 11 percent collagen and nearly 20 percent has been extracted from salmon skins. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

North Pacific council votes to close Cook Inlet federal waters to salmon

Commercial fishing in Upper Cook Inlet is facing a dismal future after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council moved to close a major swath of the central inlet this week. The council moved to enact Alternative 4 of a proposed Fishery Management Plan for Cook Inlet, closing the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, in that area. Fishermen would still be able to operate in state waters, including the shoreline and up to three nautical miles offshore, but the EEZ would be closed to all gear types. According to council analysis, about 20 percent of the total salmon caught in Cook Inlet come from that area, and a little less than half of the total drift fleet salmon catch. The proposed FMP still has to be approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service, but the council members say their hands are essentially tied because the state says it won’t participate in co-management of the fishery. The council members were under a deadline to pass something by the end of the year. In 2012, the council passed an amendment to the Cook Inlet fishery management plan, or FMP, that officially delegated management to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. But the United Cook Inlet Drift Association was not happy with state management, saying the state has failed to manage for maximum sustained yield to the commercial fishery and sued to seek federal oversight over the EEZ in the Inlet again. In 2015, the 9th Circuit Court agreed with UCIDA, and the council took up the issue of the Cook Inlet FMP again. Over the next four years, a stakeholder group and representatives from the council and the state participated in an FMP development process with the council members, hashing out potential ways to satisfy the court order to develop an FMP. The council finally arrived at four alternatives by the end of the October meeting: provide no management, cooperative state and federal management, complete federal management, or close the EEZ entirely. The fourth option, to close the EEZ, was not in play as a separate alternative until the end of the October meeting. After it came out as an option, hundreds of fishermen vocally objected, flooding the council with comments opposing the alternative. The majority of the public commenters and industry stakeholders preferred Alternative 2, which would have provided cooperative state and federal management. “We are intentionally being managed out of business, but we’re unable to defend ourselves against the agenda of our powerful state leaders, their appointed Board of Fish members, their Department of Fish and Game, and the powerful special interest groups that influence them,” said Matt Pancratz, a commercial drifter and resident of Nikolaevsk, a small Russian Old Believer village on the lower Kenai Peninsula. “We feel betrayed and powerless.” UCIDA, the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit that resulted in the FMP rewrite process, didn’t like any of the options provided. David Martin, the president of the association, told the council the group believes none of the alternatives provided would satisfy the court’s order and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The missing piece hinges on Magnuson-Steven Act language about managing harvest of fish species “throughout their range.” UCIDA has argued that this language, in combination with the court’s decision, means the council should have authority to oversee state escapement goals and salmon management. Erik Huebsch, one of UCIDA’s vice presidents, blamed the state administration for failing to manage salmon in the Inlet. “What you all need to realize is that the state of Alaska’s management system for salmon is totally corrupted, and that it has been for quite some time,” Huebsch said. “There is no other way to describe it. Some of you on the council have witnessed that firsthand. The late introduction of Alternative 4 is a punitive action by the state because their corrupt behavior is being exposed, and they want to continue their malpractice with impunity.” Salmon management has largely been deferred to the state, in part because the species is managed by escapement goals in the rivers, which are in state jurisdiction. That’s true of Cook Inlet as well, where the predominant species in the commercial fishery — particularly in the upper Inlet — is salmon. ADFG manages salmon returns to a variety of rivers and oversees subsistence, sport, commercial, and personal use fisheries throughout the basin. That’s gotten more complicated over the past few decades as the populations of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Mat-Su Valley have grown, personal-use fisheries have been established, and sportfisheries have become major economic drivers for tourism. During the council FMP process, ADFG said the collaborative process provided under Alternative 2 would be too costly and have no benefit to the state. ADFG Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker told the council that the department would not agree to work together on management in that structure. “The conditions required under Alternative 2 that we talked about for delegated management authority to the state … those conditions are unacceptable in terms of our ability to participate in that process, and particularly the federal oversight and review process, could actually result in withdrawn state delegation authority,” she said. “That’s very concerning to me on one level and the additional cost of participating in the other aspects under Alternative 2 … they don’t provide any benefit to state management. If you have to make decisions with limited resources, in that aspect, that was what I meant by unwilling to accept the conditions required under Alternative 2.” The only commenter who supported Alternative 4 was the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. The alternative to close the EEZ makes the most sense with the options before the council, given that the federal government is not easily able to respond to in-season changes, the group said in its comments. The move to close the fishery could potentially push more fish to inriver users. But that’s one of the concerns the commercial fishermen have; if too many salmon, particularly sockeye, escape into the river past sportfishermen, the fishermen say it will overtip the biological carrying capacity on the river and cause a crash in the stock. ADFG biologists make recommendations to the Board of Fisheries to set escapement goals based on biological assessments and on harvest patterns, and the board makes final allocation decisions that include altering the goals. Several of the council members expressed reservations about voting to close the EEZ, acknowledging the negative impact on the commercial fishery and the communities. In particular, the cities of Kenai, Seward, and Homer all collect revenue from their commercial fisheries landing taxes. Council member Andy Mezirow, who lives in Seward, noted that this was a difficult decision, particularly for younger fishermen in Cook Inlet. “They put their faith in this council process, participated like professionals in the Salmon FMP committee, and if we adopt Alternative 4, this process has failed to serve them,” Mezirow said. “I’m concerned about the message we are sending these and other bright young fishermen who take the time and effort to participate. And finally, I’m concerned about what it means to make a decision that might result in the end of a fishery in my backyard that’s been prosecuted for over a hundred years.” However, he said the state’s argument and the council’s timeline pushed the vote, and said he hoped there could be an additional process outside the council to alleviate some of the negative impact to the fishery. Many Cook Inlet commercial fishermen were frustrated and angered at the decision. In a statement issued Monday night, UCIDA pointed to political ties between ADFG, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association as potential causes for the vote, saying, “The fix was in.” The Alaska Salmon Alliance, an industry group representing processors in Cook Inlet, expressed disappointment in a statement issued Dec. 8, pointing to Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang’s office as a source for the wrench in the FMP development process. There will likely be more challenges due to the state’s decision, the organization said. “Meanwhile, the State of Alaska’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude has frightening ramifications for other Alaskan fisheries,” the group said in its statement. “The state and the federal government have numerous cooperative agreements for managing many other fisheries around the state and this new policy by the Dunleavy administration can affect all of those.” The council ultimately voted to support closing the EEZ 10-0, with NMFS Regional Director Dr. James Balsiger abstaining. The fishery will likely not be closed for the upcoming 2021 season, as the FMP still has to make its way through the federal rulemaking process. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Bristol Bay could boom again; SE pinks, chinook still down

For better or worse, recent trends in some of Alaska’s primary salmon fisheries are likely to continue in 2021, according to early predictions from state biologists. On the positive side of the ledger, Bristol Bay is expected to see yet another strong return of sockeye salmon next year; the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a total run of just more than 51 million sockeye attempting to reach the bay’s nine large river systems. Such a return should translate into a commercial harvest of nearly 37.8 million sockeye and an area-wide escapement of about 13.7 million fish, according to the 2021 Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon Forecast. A total run of 51 million fish would be approximately 45 percent greater than the long-term average run of 35.1 million sockeye to the bay based on harvest and escapement estimates going back to 1963 but “just” about 6 percent greater than the 10-year average return of 48.1 million sockeye as the fishery has continued to build on itself of late. Similarly, a harvest of 37 million sockeye would be 40 percent greater than the long-term average harvest of nearly 22 million fish and 13 percent greater than the average harvest of 32.2 million sockeye since 2011, according to the forecast. The Bristol Bay fishery is typically the largest commercial sockeye fishery in the world and the most lucrative salmon fishery in the state in terms of the total value of the fish harvested. ADFG Bristol Bay Area Research Biologist Greg Buck said the latest strong sockeye forecast is largely based on the expected continuation of “massive” returns of 1.2-age sockeye — those that spend one year rearing in freshwater and two in the ocean — to the bay’s western rivers in recent years, primarily the Nushagak and Wood near Dillingham. Biologists thought those Westside returns could be an indicator for large 1.3-age fish in 2020 and they were mostly right, Buck said, particularly for the Naknek River on the bay’s Eastside. “The Naknek just blew the doors off the numbers last year,” he said in an interview. “Now the question is: How long is this going to play out?” More than 14 million sockeye were harvested in the Naknek-Kvichak district last summer, which was 66 percent greater than the 20-year average harvest for the area. Even still, approximately 4.1 million sockeye escaped into the Naknek River, according to ADFG, more than double the river's upper-end escapement goal of 2 million sockeye. Buck also noted that the forecasts for Bristol Bay sockeye have borne out to be lower than actual returns in recent years. The forecast for this past summer pegged the 2020 run at 46.6 million sockeye before more than 58 million fish showed up for the sixth consecutive year of a 50 million-plus fish run. The 2018 run of 62.3 million fish was the largest on record going back to 1893, according to ADFG, and was 21 percent greater than the preseason forecast. “If we have had any trend over the past 10 years or so we’ve been kind of conservative with the forecast so I kind of took the governor off this year and said ‘go for it,’” Buck said. By district, the 2021 Bristol Bay sockeye run forecast breaks down as follows: 17.3 million fish to the Naknek-Kvichak district; 15 million to the Nushagak district; 11.2 million to the Egegik district; 6.6 million to the Ugashik district; and just more than 800,000 to the Togiak district. Buck added that the official state prediction is right in line with a forecast for a 2021 Bristol Bay sockeye run of 50.9 million fish from University of Washington experts, who conduct extensive research on the Alaska fishery. As for why the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery has performed exceptionally well in recent years when many other salmon stocks across Alaska and down the West Coast are struggling, he said the possibility that a warmer Bering Sea is more productive continues to be a popular theory but acknowledged that is little more than an educated guess at this point as well. “There’s obviously something deep-ocean about this,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s part of the life cycle we don’t know much about.” There also is no apparent correlation between the strong 1.2 and 1.3-age classes and poorer returns of older sockeye. And while a larger harvestable surplus of salmon is generally a good thing, most of the sockeye that have returned to Bristol Bay of late have been small. Those salmon harvested this year averaged 5.1 pounds, which is nearly a pound smaller than the long-term average size, according to ADFG. “It’s pretty straightforward; they’re growing like gangbusters out there at sea for some reason so they’re maturing early. Whatever’s going on out there is putting their hormones in overdrive,” Buck said of the smaller sockeye. Smaller than average returning salmon have become a trend statewide. Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Executive Director Andy Wink wrote via email that the forecast for next year “looks really good” even if there is a trend towards smaller and younger sockeye. Wink wrote that although most Bristol Bay sockeye are frozen after being headed and gutted and smaller “H&G” sockeye often fetch lower per pound wholesale prices, poor runs elsewhere helped limit the global sockeye supply this year. As a result, prices for four- to six-pound sizes are currently quite high, according to Wink, so he wouldn’t be surprised to see what price gap there is start to close. A lot of it has to do with the fact that sockeye come from wild fisheries “so we get what we get, and so does the market,” he wrote. “We have seen those in the supply chain successfully adjusting to smaller fish sizes, and that will likely continue so long as we see runs that skew younger and smaller,” Wink continued. “Even though smaller sockeye produce a slightly lower fillet yield and can sell for a dollar/pound less in wholesale markets, there doesn’t appear to be a drastic difference when it comes to retail prices or consumer demand.” And though it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen with millions of salmon facing seemingly just as many variables impacting their survival, but Buck added that “right now it looks like (the strong runs) will play out for a few more years.” Southeast pinks, chinook The immediate outlooks for two of Southeast’s biggest salmon fisheries aren’t nearly as bright. The joint NOAA Fisheries-Alaska Department of Fish and Game 2021 Southeast Pink Salmon Harvest Forecast state’s the regional harvest of the smallest and most prolific Pacific salmon is expected to be “average” at approximately 28 million pinks, but ADFG Southeast Pink and Chum Salmon Project Leader Andy Piston said in an interview that there is a caveat to that. Southeast pinks runs — particularly those to inside waters in the northern part of the region — have become increasingly odd-year dominant, he said, meaning more fish tend to return in odd-numbered years. That’s because pinks have a two-year life cycle that is much more strict than other species of salmon that often have several age classes of fish return in a given year. Pinks do not. “You have all your eggs in one basket, so it takes time for odd and even years to bounce back,” Piston said. To that end, a harvest of 28 million pinks is classified as average for all years but is actually “quite a bit below the average” for odd years in Southeast, he said. The 10-year average Southeast pink harvest is 34 million fish and the 28 million-fish forecast is just more than half of the odd-year harvest since 2001, according to ADFG figures. Additionally, next year’s Southeast pinks were spawned from the 2019 return that yielded a “really poor” harvest of about 21 million fish, Piston said. He attributed the smaller returns to poor early marine survival, which many biologists have linked to warmer-than-normal Gulf of Alaska water temperatures in recent years. “The overall trend has been downward since the early 2000s and the pattern is similar for sockeye salmon, coho salmon and chinook,” Piston said. “It’s pretty clear that there’s large-scale environmental conditions that are driving all of this.” However, he said there is hope in the fact that water temperatures in the northern Southeast waters of Icy and Chatham straits were again close to normal this summer and surface temperatures in the Gulf have also moderated. “Now (temperatures) are pretty close to near average in the northern Gulf of Alaska. Hopefully we’ll see some better survival for these fish,” he said, adding that short-lived pinks will likely offer the first clue as to whether or not gulf-raised salmon in general could start an upswing. However, managers do not think Stikine or Taku River chinook salmon will start their rebounds in 2021. According to the forecast for the large Southeast rivers published Nov. 30, just 9,900 large chinook are expected to return to the Stikine River near Wrangell next summer, which is well below the escapement goal of 14,000-28,000 fish. The Stikine had a chinook escapement of just 10,670 fish from a terminal run of 11,750 large fish this year, according to ADFG figures. Similarly, the terminal run forecast for the Taku near Juneau is for 10,300 large chinook next year, which would also be well below the escapement goal range of 19,000 to 36,000 fish. The Taku saw a chinook escapement of 15,590 fish this year. Chinook stocks have severely struggled across Southeast for several years and the small run forecasts are likely to again translate to broad chinook fishing closures across Southeast inside waters in spring and early summer, according to ADFG. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Bambino’s launches Bristol Bay baby food

Frozen sockeye salmon strips bring tasty nutrition and relief to teething babies. The lightly seasoned salmon strips, made mostly from Bristol Bay reds, are the third product made by Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage that is aimed at getting more seafood into the mouths of babes. “I always kind of giggle because it’s not going to be just for the little ones. I’m sure mom and dad and elder brother or sister are going to be gnawing on those as well,” said Zoi Maroudas, Bambino’s founder and operator. “I also wanted to honor our indigenous families and traditions and share how natural, nutrient-rich omega strips can be so good for a little one to enjoy. Instead of a cookie or cracker, a frozen salmon strip.” “Seeing our community and friends near and far now having the option to find Pivsi (Inupiaq for “dried fish”) at Bambino’s is very exciting and a healthy new option for kiddos,” said Lars Nelson, president of TRIBN construction company at Utqiagvik, and parent of six. Maroudas, who was born in Greece and came to Alaska as a child (her family owns Pizza Olympia in Spenard), launched Bambino’s first seafood item, Hali-Halibut, in 2017 followed shortly after by a Sockeye Salmon Bisque. The pouched meals feature frozen, star-shaped portions that are perfect for baby-sized hands or for thawing into puree-style meals. Each contains “the perfect balance” of proteins, grains and vegetables for optimal nutritional content, she added. The baby seafood items are among 20 Alaska grown products that are made in Maroudas’ store and production facility in Anchorage. Bambino’s has resonated with some big names and won notable awards. Maroudas has been featured on the Today Show, Fox News, numerous magazines, by hip hop artist Uncle Murda, and she was personally honored by both Martha Stewart (she brought her sockeye salmon) and President Trump. The Bambino’s line also won the American Choice Award for Best Organic Brand and Alaska’s Top Manufacturer in 2019. Bambino’s is filling a void by America’s baby food makers who continue to completely snub seafood in their protein lines, despite its proven health benefits (they offer seafood items in Asia and Europe). And that is despite the fact that starting in 2021, new federal dietary guidelines go into effect that say along with eating two portions of seafood each week, fish should be included in babies’ diets starting at six months old. “The omega-3s found in seafood are to a developing retina and brain what calcium is to bones. But it is not just the omega-3s, it is these great minerals that are in some cases rare in other foods. The zinc and iron and selenium and iodine…and these are just not as high as they need to be in diets that are missing seafood,” said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics, chemistry and nutrition at the University of Texas and at Cornell University. Bambino’s is now shipped from Anchorage to customers in all 50 states and can be found at all Safeway/Carrs stores, Amazon and at Baby Vend machines at Alaska Airline terminals. Maroudas said she doesn’t strive to be the No. 1 baby food in sales; she aims to be the best on the market. Above all, she said feeding more children with the purest Alaska ingredients is her biggest reward. “It’s an absolute honor to represent our state for its quality, for its nutrition,” she said. “And working together with our farmers and our fishermen to create that beautiful plate as an extension of their home, for their families wherever they are, is the most humbling, most rewarding. And at nighttime. I pray that tomorrow’s even better for everyone around the world.” Up next for Bambino’s: an Alaska pollock product! Fishing updates Lots of fishing updates and wrapups continue across Alaska from Ketchikan to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. And lots of outlooks for next year’s fisheries are starting to trickle in from state and federal managers. The Pacific halibut fishery for this year, for example, ended on Nov. 15 and early estimates peg Alaska’s take at just less than 15 million pounds out of a 16 million-pound catch limit. Results from the yearly halibut survey have raised cautious hopes for a possible uptick in some fishing regions in 2021. “Pacific halibut appears to be holding its own, with an encouraging — if small — indication that overall weight of catch per unit of effort, a proxy for abundance, went up by 6 percent coastwide, reported Peggy Parker, executive director of the Halibut Association of North America. Catch per unit of effort, or CPUE, refers to a standard “skate” of gear that is 1,800 feet long bearing 100 hooks. Of note, the total weights per skate increased by 24 percent. Of note, the total weights per unit, or WPUE, increased by 24 percent in the Central Gulf, the largest halibut fishing hole. The other Alaska areas did not fare as well: the WPUE at Southeast was down 5 percent, the Western Gulf dropped 6 percent, at the Aleutians, weights were down 2 percent near Dutch Harbor but up 3 percent at Adak; and the Bering Sea fishing regions increased by 8 percent. Coastwide, the WPUEs were up 6 percent. The final halibut catch limits for next year will be revealed at the International Pacific Halibut Commission virtual meeting set for Jan. 25-29, 2021, and the fishery will open in March. The deadline to submit halibut regulatory proposals is Dec. 26. Homer held onto its title of America’s No. 1 halibut port for landings, followed by Kodiak and Juneau. Alaska’s sablefish fishery (black cod) also ended on Nov. 15 with 71 percent of its 31.7 million-pound quota crossing the docks. Kodiak, Seward and Sitka were the top ports for landings. Another blockbuster sockeye run is projected for Bristol Bay next summer, topping 51 million reds if projections by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hold true. That means the fishery will average over 48 million reds annually for the past 10 years. The 2021 forecast calls for a sockeye catch of 36.35 million fish. ADFG also is predicting an “average” pink salmon harvest for Southeast Alaska next year of 28 million fish, below the 10-year average of 34 million but better than the 2019 catch of 21 million. Meanwhile, Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter Chinook salmon. A few areas of the Panhandle remain open for pot shrimp and the harvest had reached 540,670 pounds. Divers also continue pulling up geoduck clams; they have also taken 1.2 million pounds of sea cucumbers out of a 1.7 million-pound catch limit. The region’s Dungeness fishery is ongoing through Nov. 30 and nearly 200 crabbers have landed 6.4 million pounds in the combined summer and fall fisheries. A sea cucumber fishery at Kodiak and the westward region has a small quota of 165,000 pounds. A herring food and bait fishery opened on Nov. 14 at Kodiak with a 319-ton limit. The nation’s biggest fishery — Alaska pollock — just wrapped up in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska until Jan. 20, producing more than 3 billion pounds of the popular whitefish. Cod fishing is mostly over for the year except for a small reopener in the Gulf on Nov. 23 for pot or jig boats. Other boats also continue to target various rockfish and flounders. Catches for 2021 Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fisheries will be revealed when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets virtually from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. Bering Sea crabbers have taken 99 percent of their 2.38 million-pound red king crab quota. They also are tapping on more than 2 million pounds of Tanners and more than 6 million pounds of golden king crab. Find links to Alaska fish catches at www.alaskafishradio.com Sea cuke cures Sea cucumbers have been considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine for centuries and also have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to help aid in many different health problems. In his book Cancer: Step Outside the Box, author Ty M. Bollinger calls the spiky, slug-like creates a miracle cure for cancer. “You can cook them for various dishes, but the way it’s found in local health food stores is dried and powdered and in capsule form,” he said, adding that dried sea cucumber extract is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and also has anti-inflammatory properties. “Another of the fascinating things about sea cucumbers is that they are very high in chondroitin sulfate, which is commonly used to treat joint pain and arthritis. To my knowledge, they have the highest concentration of chondroitin of any animal,” Bollinger said in an interview. While customers likely won’t see it on the labels, he added that powdered sea cucumbers also have many cancer curing abilities based on studies over the past 15 years. “Number one, it’s cytotoxic, which means it kills cancer cells, and it also is immunomodulatory. So it has both sides of what I call the cancer killing coin,” he explained. “If you are going to defeat cancer, you need something that regulates your immune system to where it works properly but you also must have something that is going to kill those cancer cells. The sea cucumber does both.” Sea cucumber extract also is used as an adjunct treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy, Bollinger said, because it’s very effective at mitigating the side effects of that cancer treatment. There are more than 1,250 species of sea cucumber in the world. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: 2020 state report sums up salmon returns, prices

Tamped down prices due to toppled markets caused by the COVID-19 virus combined with low salmon returns to many Alaska regions added up to reduced paychecks for fishermen and will mean lower tax revenues for fishing communities. A summary of the preliminary harvests and values by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows that Alaska’s total 2020 salmon catch came in at just less than 117 million fish, a 44 percent decrease from last season’s haul of 208.3 million fish, and the 13th-lowest on record. The statewide salmon value of $295.2 million is a whopping 56 percent decrease from 2019’s $673.4 million, and when adjusted for inflation, it is the lowest value since 2006. Sockeyes accounted for nearly 59 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value at $174.9 million and comprised 40 percent of the harvest at 46.1 million fish. Pinks accounted for 51 percent of the statewide salmon harvest at 51.4 million and 21 percent of the value at $61.8 million. Regional tallies compared to the 2019 catches and values reveal a clearer picture of the economic hits, which are down by half or more across the board. At Southeast Alaska, 14.3 million salmon crossed the docks valued at just more than $50 million to fishermen. That compares to a catch of 32.2 million fish last year paying out at $101.8 million. Prince William Sound fishermen fetched $49.6 million for salmon catches totaling 25.5 million this year, down from 57.7 million fish valued at just less than $115 million last season. At Cook Inlet, a catch of 3.6 million salmon rang in at just more than $10 million, down by 4.3 million fish and $22.9 million, respectively. A huge haul of pinks pushed Kodiak’s salmon catch to over 24 million with a dockside value of $26.6 million. That’s well less than the value of $47 million last year on a harvest of 35.7 million fish. Chignik fishermen were beached all season for a fishery value of zero. That compares to 2019 values of 3.5 million sockeyes harvested, worth just more than $8 million. At Bristol Bay, a catch of just more than 40 million salmon was valued at $140.6 million to fishermen, down from 44.4 million fish and a record payday of $306.5 million in 2019. At the Alaska Peninsula, the salmon value came in at $16.6 million this summer on a harvest of 8.7 million fish, compared to $49 million on landings of nearly 27 million salmon last year. Fishermen on the Kuskowkim finally went fishing after being shut out since 2016 when the region’s “community development” non-profit abruptly pulled the plug on buying salmon. A newly formed Quinhagak co-op of four villages landed 197,365 salmon this summer (mostly sockeyes) worth $596,272. Salmon fishermen on the Yukon took under 19,000 fish of mostly chums, valued at $51,444 for a summer harvest only. That compares to 561,644 fish valued at over $2 million for summer and fall fisheries in 2019. At Norton Sound, only 50,679 salmon were caught this summer worth less than $300,000 to fishermen. That compares to 381,124 fish valued at more than $2 million last year. Kotzebue salmon fishermen landed 149,820 chums this summer for a payout of $542,306. Last year’s catch of 493,340 salmon was valued at more than $1.5 million. Looking at average salmon prices paid to fishermen compared to 2019: chinook averaged $5.07 per pound compared to $4.48, sockeyes averaged 76 cents, down from $1.45; cohos averaged $1.17, down just 2 cents per pound, the average pink price of 30 cents was the same as last year, and the average dock price for chums at 43 cents was a drop of 6 cents per pound from 2019. It’s important to note that the dollar values for all salmon catches are preliminary and do not include post-season price adjustments. Some salmon facts: 95 percent of wild salmon eaten by Americans comes from Alaska, but Alaska salmon provides only about 13 percent of the global supply. Farmed salmon production outnumbers wild harvests by nearly 3-to-1. Halibut hauls Alaska’s eight-month Pacific halibut fishery ended on Nov. 15 and just a few days later, stakeholders will get an overview of the health of the stock and a glimpse at potential catches for next year. The total halibut catch limit for 2020, which includes Alaska, the West Coast states and British Columbia, totaled 35.5 million pounds. Alaska’s share was 17.1 million pounds, of which 93 percent (15.9 million pounds) was landed. A breakdown by the International Pacific Halibut Commission shows that 64 percent of the catch went to the commercial fishing sector, 17 percent to recreational users, 3 percent for subsistence users and 14 percent went to “non-directed fisheries,” meaning halibut caught and discarded as bycatch. Discarded halibut in 2020 is estimated at just more than 5 million pounds, down from 6.56 million in 2019, nearly all of which was taken in Alaska non-halibut fisheries (4.68 million pounds). Much more will be revealed at the Nov. 18-19 interim online meeting of the IPHC, which already has posted a plethora of documents for review. Of note are the results of the successful summer “Fishery-Independent Setline Survey” at 898 stations that indicates some hopeful upticks. “Available views allow users to interactively review the raw and adjusted (for hook competition and timing) results from 2020 and prior years with an ability to drill down and track differences among areas and across years,” said Dr. David Wilson, IPHC Executive Director. He noted the catch-per-unit-effort data (per hook) at: https://www.iphc.int/data/FISS-catch-per-unit-effort. Final halibut catch limits will be set at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 25-29, 2021, which also will be online due to COVID-19 concerns. The deadline to submit regulatory proposals is Dec. 26. Everything about Alaska fisheries This week features a virtual fish meeting lineup like never before. And while nothing can replace in-person gatherings, the online availabilities let many more people participate, and provides documents that remain available long after the meetings are done. The diverse topics provide an opportunity like never before for people to expand their knowledge and understanding of the seafood industry. United Fishermen of Alaska webinars run from Nov.16-20 starting on Monday with a Seafood Marketing Update, followed by the latest updates on ocean acidification. Tuesday features Bycatch Management in North Pacific Groundfish Fisheries, an Alaska Hatchery Update and an Update on Transboundary Mining Issues. On Wednesday, the UFA lineup includes Updates from the USCG and an ADF&G Update. Thursday features Get to Know the Alaska Board of Fisheries Members and Update on BOF Meeting Cycle and a Pebble Mine and Bristol Bay 2020 Recap. Friday wraps up the online offerings with a webinar called Get to Know Your Coastal Legislators. Find more information at www.ufafish.org/ Pacific Marine Expo virtual meetings, hosted by National Fisherman magazine, also take place from Nov. 17-19. Day One features Making Waves: Offshore Wind Power & Commercial Fishing, followed by Workforce Development: Resources and Partners. On Wednesday, a Maritime Economic Forecast Breakfast will focus on the upcoming year for the Port of Seattle and beyond, followed by a webinar on Vessel Design and Gear Technology and the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act: Funding Repower Partnerships for Commercial Fishing Businesses Day Three will feature a Fishing Industry Career Fair and an update on what’s next for the Pebble Mine. See the full line up at www.pacificmarineexpo.com/ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Labor Dept. report shows continuing decline in seafood jobs

The number of boots on deck in Alaska has declined and most fisheries have lost jobs over the past five years. Overall, Alaska’s harvesting sector ticked downward by 848 jobs from 2015 through 2019. A snapshot of fish harvesting jobs is featured in the November edition of Alaska Economic Trends by the state Department of Labor. The findings show that after hitting a peak of 8,501 harvesters in 2015, fishing jobs then fell to around 8,000 for the next two years before dropping again in 2018 to about 7,600. In 2019, average monthly fishing employment was 7,653 and the industry added just 33 fishing jobs all year, reflecting growth of about 0.4 percent. Estimated gross earnings in 2019 totaled more than $1.7 billion, of which only about $660 million went to permit holders who were Alaska residents; the bulk went to fishermen who call Washington home. Alaska’s salmon fisheries, which represent the most workers on deck, added 93 harvesters in 2019 but remained below the five-year average of 4,472 jobs. Crab harvesting followed a similar trend, gaining 26 jobs in 2019 but remaining less than the fishery’s five-year average by 21 jobs. That drop is the largest in percent terms by species since 2015, or a loss of nearly a quarter of that workforce. Halibut harvesting gained just three jobs last year at 1,071, hovering less than its five-year average by 28 fishing jobs, a 2.6 percent decline. Sablefish, or black cod, was the only other category to add jobs over the five years by 22, settling in at a yearly average of 646 black cod fishermen. Two fisheries lost jobs last year – herring and groundfish, which has dropped fishing participants nearly every year since 2015. Kodiak, for example, is one of Alaska’s top groundfish ports, and lost one-fifth of its harvester jobs (162) over five years, due in great part to reduced fishing of cod. By region, the Yukon Delta shed the largest share of fishing jobs due to poor salmon seasons. Last year’s 170 Yukon fishing participants was a 55 percent drop from 2015. Bristol Bay lost just 11 fishing jobs over five years, a decline of 0.7 percent. Four regions — Southeast, Southcentral, Kodiak and the Aleutians — added jobs last year but haven’t regained their 2015 highs. Harvester jobs are tricky to calculate because fishermen are considered self-employed. Labor economists infer jobs in a given month from fish landings, and because fishing permits are tied to specific gears and boat sizes, they can roughly estimate how many people are on the job averaged across a year. The November Trends also features processing seafood in Alaska during a pandemic and the state’s deflation statistics: “Alaska’s economy began to shut down in March due to COVID-19 and remains weak…of all the nation’s consumer price indexes generated at the state or city level, Alaska’s is the only one showing consistent overall deflation this year. The reasons aren’t yet clear, and it will take time to know whether it’s a temporary aberration, especially if the economy rebounds with any vigor,” wrote Labor economist Neal Fried. Offshore fish farms advance Two U.S. regions have been selected as Aquaculture Opportunity Areas. Or AOAs, as part of the Trump Administration’s executive order in May “Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth” in waters from three to 200 miles offshore. The two regions are in the Gulf of Mexico and off Southern California and are the first of 10 sites that NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is tasked with identifying over the next five years. The AOAs will use existing infrastructure, such as docks, processing plants, and transportation routes in selected regions to create new sustainable economic opportunities, said Danielle Blacklock, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Aquaculture, at a recent SeafoodSource webinar. “We’re looking for places that are appropriate in multiple different ways – they need to be appropriate environmentally or ecologically, meaning that areas have the right kind of current flow, the right depth, but they also need to be appropriate socially so we’re looking to minimize user conflict,” Blacklock explained. “We’re not going to be in shipping lanes and we’re looking to stay out of traditional fishing grounds. And we’re also trying to make sure that they are economically appropriate, meaning that they are close enough to a port that landing their harvest is not too much of a challenge.” There is no predetermined size for an AOA and they could vary depending on what species of fish, shellfish and seaweeds are being grown. And while the areas are planned for waters that fall under federal jurisdiction, Blacklock said NOAA hopes to also collaborate with states for opportunities in their regions. The State of Washington got onboard with NOAA Aquaculture a few years ago and it helped drive shellfish development on the west coast, said Paul Doremus, Chief Operating Officer for NOAA Fisheries. He believes that could have some appeal for Alaska, which has banned fish farming since the 1980s. “There is a very vibrant mariculture industry in Alaska and an enormous amount of interest in seaweed production and various mollusks and shellfish,” Doremus said. “This also is a path to diversifying the seafood sector and something that a lot of folks in Alaska are very excited about. They are not excited about finfish so that is unlikely to happen.” The public can comment through Dec. 22 on the Aquaculture Opportunity Areas being selected; a national listening session is scheduled for Nov. 19 from 1 to 3p.m. Eastern time. Kodiak awaits Tanners, hauls in Dungies There was some slim hope that a small Tanner crab fishery could occur in January for westward region crabbers, which includes Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula. The summer survey indicated there might be enough mature male crabs to sustain a small 2021 fishery. But after crunching all the data, it was not meant to be. Crabbers are in a gap year between a 2013 Tanner year class that’s pretty much tapped out while awaiting a 2018 cohort that’s the biggest ever, said Nat Nichols, regional manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Kodiak. “We’re fully between the two big groups of crab that we’ve been watching for the last couple years. Last year, we had a fishery on the 2013 group but they were coming up on seven years old at that point, so they were pretty much aging out of the population,” Nichols said. “For the 2018 group, it typically takes about four years to get them to legal size, so the expectation that a lot of them were going to be legal in 2020 was very low. The upshot is that this 2018 group seems to be surviving well and it’s very widespread. If they continue to do that, we could certainly see a meaningful chunk of that group getting legal next year, and then the year after that looks even better.” Nichols agreed that fewer cod fish throughout the westward region could account for the steady uptick in Tanners. “I don’t think it can hurt,” he said. “There’s just a lot fewer mouths out there trying to eat a crab dinner right now.” Meanwhile, Kodiak just wrapped up its best Dungeness crab fishery in 30 years with a catch nearing 3 million pounds for 29 boats. At the Alaska Peninsula, a fleet of 16 boats saw good hauls at 1.4 million pounds, and three boats took over a half million pounds at Chignik. That added up to a total take of 2.13 million animals. The one downer was the Dungeness price. The crabs, which weigh just over two pounds on average, reportedly fetched $1.85 a pound at Kodiak and $1.75 further west, down from more than $3 in previous seasons. Upper Inlet salmon wrap State fishery managers are calling the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery harvest and value “historically low.” The commercial harvest of roughly 1.2 million salmon was 65 percent less than the recent 10-year average harvest of 3.2 million fish. A season summary by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that the estimated ex-vessel (dock side) value of all salmon species is approximately $5.2 million, the worst on record, and about 81 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual value of $27.0 million. While all five species of Pacific salmon are found in Upper Cook Inlet, sockeye account for nearly 93 percent of the total value to fishermen during the past 20 years. The 2020 total run forecast for sockeye salmon was 4.3 million, and the actual run came in at 4.4 million fish. Salmon escapements to UCI streams were mostly above or within established ranges for sockeye, chum and coho salmon, but were poor for chinook salmon. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Converging forces make for worst Upper Cook Inlet season in decades

Low prices, an oddly timed sockeye run and another year of very poor Kenai king returns combined to result in one of the worst Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishing seasons on record. The 2020 Upper Cook Inlet harvest of roughly 1.2 million salmon was less than half the recent 10-year average harvest of 3.2 million fish and the estimated cumulative ex-vessel value of approximately $5.2 million was the worst on record, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Upper Cook Inlet Commercial Salmon Fishery Season Summary. The average ex-vessel, or unprocessed wholesale value of salmon caught by the Upper Cook Inlet fleet over the previous 10 years was $27 million and the last time it didn’t reach at least $10 million was 2001 when the total ex-vessel harvest value was $7.7 million. The last time the nominal value of the Upper Cook Inlet fishery — not adjusted for inflation — was at least as low as 2020 was 1972 when a harvest of 2.2 million salmon netted $3.5 million for fishermen. However, the dismal result of the 2020 fishery was not because the primary target species, sockeye, didn’t show up. The preseason estimate for the total Upper Cook Inlet sockeye return of nearly 4.3 million fish, which corresponded to a preseason commercial harvest estimate of roughly 1.7 million sockeye, was just 2 percent less than the total sockeye return of just more than 4.3 million fish to the region’s river systems. The total 2020 Upper Cook Inlet sockeye harvest of just 669,751 fish was 1.9 million less than the 10-year average. The chinook harvest of 2,833 fish; the coho harvest of 133,761; and the chum harvest of 28,355 salmon were all well off from recent averages as well. The Upper Cook Inlet pink salmon harvest — traditionally larger during even years — of 326,594 fish was 42 percent better than the 10-year average harvest. ADFG Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishery management biologist Brian Marston said this year was the latest in a string of several years when the region had roughly average sockeye returns but commercial fishermen were challenged in harvesting them. “The primary problem that limited our ability to harvest sockeye was the abysmal return of chinook; to put a finer point on it, the return of late-run Kenai River chinook,” Marston said. Continued poor late-run chinook returns to the Kenai have forced managers to restrict commercial fishing opportunity for Upper Cook Inlet sockeye, particularly in the near shore areas where the fish are more likely to intermingle. The 2020 Kenai River late-run chinook escapement of an estimated 11,499 large chinook meant the stock failed to reach the lower end of its escapement goal for the second straight year despite season-long restrictions to both the sport and the eastside setnet commercial fisheries. Approximately 250 large Kenai chinook combined were harvested in the sport and East Side setnet fisheries based on preliminary estimates by the department. Managers initially estimated a return of more than 22,700 large late-run Kenai chinook, which would’ve been on par with the recent five-year average but about half the 10-year average, according to ADFG. The restrictions and later than normal sockeye returns largely contributed to the upper end of the sockeye escapement goals being exceeded on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. The 1.81 million sockeye escapement in the Kenai was far greater than the upper end of the 1.3 million fish sustainable escapement goal and the story was similar at the nearby Kasilof where 545,654 sockeye passed the sonar, more than 225,000 fish greater than the upper end of the biological escapement goal. The sockeye escapement was the largest in the 38 years of the sonar project on the river, according to the summary. Sockeye returns to the Susitna River and smaller Upper Cook Inlet systems were well below preseason forecasts but mostly within escapement objectives. The midpoint of the Kenai sockeye run was Aug. 6 this year, compared to a historical average of July 25, mostly due to a mid-August spike in sockeye numbers. The Aug. 17 Kenai sonar count of 134,874 sockeye is the latest day for peak sockeye passage in the river that the department has observed. Marston noted those fish largely arrived after the peak of commercial fishing activity and were “blushed” or turning color, and thus had minimal commercial value. Salmon markets partly depressed by a lack of demand stemming from the pandemic also impacted the value of the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet fishery. Sockeye prices averaged $1.24 per pound, the lowest since 2009, according to the department. Average prices of 87 cents per pound for Cook Inlet coho; 25 cents per pound for pinks; and $3.57 per pound for Upper Cook Inlet chinook were more in line with recent years. Statewide summary Commercial fishermen across Alaska have harvested approximately 116.8 million salmon worth more than $295 million so far in 2020, according to the statewide salmon summary published Nov. 9. The $295 million ex-vessel value for the harvest was less than half of last year’s value of $673.4 million, when more than 208 million salmon were harvested. Odd-year salmon harvests are typically larger due to the two-year return cycle for pinks in Southeast and Prince William Sound. Bristol Bay sockeye again dominated the statewide salmon scene with a harvest of more than 39.4 million fish — just shy of 200 million pounds — generating an ex-vessel value of $139.4 million, or more than 45 percent of the value of the statewide catch. The statewide average price of 76 cents per pound for sockeye was roughly half the 2019 average of $1.45 per pound; however, the 2020 average prices for other species were in line with last year. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values seesaw after 2020 season

After a salmon season that successfully fished its way through a pandemic and upturned markets, the value of Alaska salmon permits is ticking up in two regions while toppling in others. Permit values are derived by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission based on the average value of four permit sales. One of the uppers is the bellwether fishery at Bristol Bay where driftnet permits are showing good gains after a strong fishing season, despite a disappointing base sockeye price of 70 cents per pound, down by nearly half from last year. “Probably the lowest asking price out there right now is $170,000,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Of course, the next big news here for the Bay would be the forecasts for next year which are not out yet, and they could certainly have an influence on what people are willing to pay for those permits. But they have come up considerably from the low of $150,000 before the season.” Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg lists one Bristol Bay permit at $195,000, while Dock Street Brokers has new drift listings at between $170,000 and $180,000. Kodiak was a bright spot for salmon seiners who caught an unexpected surge of more than 21 million pinks. That helped boost permit values for the first time in years. “Before the season, those Kodiak seine permits were probably worth around $35,000. In recent sales, they’ve ticked up to around $38,000 and we have them available on the market now at $40,000,” Bowen said. “So they’ve trended up a bit.” Permit Master shows Kodiak seine cards listed between $36,000 to $40,000, and $45,000 at Dock Street Elsewhere in Alaska, other salmon permit values have declined since last spring. At Cook Inlet, yet another lousy season has pushed down the value to the $20,000 range, the lowest since farmed salmon caused a crash decades ago. “Those Cook Inlet drift permits got up to as high as $240,000 or $250,000 at the high water mark, and then when farmed salmon came along in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the entire salmon industry crashed and the permit values dropped by 90 percent or more. I remember selling Cook Inlet drifts for $10,000 at the bottom,” Bowen said. The Copper River drift fishery this year also was a wash. “The fish just did not show up on the flats there. Before the season those permits were around $140,000 give or take, and recent sales are around $105,000,” he said. “They’ve dropped a lot and there’s not much movement there. Nobody wants to sell at those low prices.” Prince William Sound seiners did better in their fisheries, but those permit values also have taken a dip from $140,000 to $145,000 before the season. “You could probably pick one up for $130,000 now,” Bowen said. At Southeast Alaska, where a disaster has been declared after one of the worst seasons in more than 40 years, salmon permit values reflect the decline. “The market for drift and seine permits is about flat with very little interest or movement in those Southeast permits,” Bowen said. “Before the season, you could have picked up a drift permit for $70,000. The lowest asking price out there now is probably $67,000 so I would imagine you could pick one up for somewhere in the $60,000 range. In the spring of last year, Southeast seine permits were around $250,000; the asking price now is $175,000.” Nowhere in Alaska has a salmon permit value dropped more than at Chignik, once the most exclusive in the state. “They were probably the most expensive salmon permit on the market for a while at about a half a million dollars. There has been absolutely no activity in that Chignik seine permit market and the lowest asking price is probably about $90,000. But there is zero interest there,” Bowen added. Permit values at Area M (False Pass) also show little interest after a lousy season with no sales post-season. “We have a permit listed at $185,000 and an offer of $140,000,” he added. Despite the downturns, Bowen said most people are still optimistic about Alaska’s iconic fishery and boat sales are brisk. “You have to be willing to take a risk to plunk down a big chunk of cash for a boat in these times with so much uncertainty, but our boat sales are doing great,” he said. “I don’t think anything demonstrates confidence in the industry as much as buying a boat. It’s a huge investment and people are making them.” Expos and All Hands COVID-19 has derailed face-to-face fish gatherings and forced them to online venues, and there’s a fishing industry dream of a lineup for this month. One perk of “going virtual” is that more people can tune in to all kinds of meetings, discussions and workshops no matter where they call home. That will hopefully be the case at the Fishermen’s Fall Expo at Sitka on Nov. 11 and 12 hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. “Usually, it’s Sitka fishermen and women that come in and get to participate in these trainings and workshops. But this year, we’re hoping to have a broader scope of folks throughout the region and the state and maybe beyond, too. We’ve got quite a lineup and yes, it is a bit pot heavy,” said Natalie Sattler, program coordinator, with a laugh. Sattler is referring to the new lightweight, coiled pots that prevent whales from robbing black cod catches and are changing the game, especially for smaller boats. Manufacturers will be on hand with demonstrations; others will show how to set up boat decks and hydraulics for longliners who are interested in switching to the whale-proof pots. The new gear could lead to new fishing regulations and Sattler said a forum will discuss potential changes. “We want to help both hook and line and pot boats really coexist on the grounds and ensure that small boats continue to have a viable future in the sablefish fishery,” she said. Also in the lineup: updates on local mariculture, vessel energy efficiency, hybrid technology, management 101, and fishermen’s ergonomics. “How to take care of your body when you’re fishing to prevent certain injuries,” Sattler explained. “So that’ll be kind of fun to get folks up and moving in the comfort of their own homes.” Sign up for free at www.alfafish.org. Get the latest updates on nearly every Alaska fish in the sea at the popular All Hands on Deck virtual meetings set for Nov. 10-13 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Each day will focus on marketing strategies and challenges for the fish and shellfish ASMI promotes in the U.S. and around the world. “ASMI’s mission is to increase the economic value and awareness of the Alaska seafood resource and that’s a really big lift,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director. “And we couldn’t do it without the input and guidance and ‘on the ground’ information we get from all of our industry partners and stakeholders.” The All Hands lineup features the latest industry economic indicators presented by the McDowell Group, including COVID-19 impacts around the world, trade disputes, and a roundtable forum with experts from the global seafood supply chain. Every fish and shellfish species gets its own session, Heimbigner said. “If you were to pop in to a crab species committee meeting, you might hear them discussing an overview of stock assessments in specific regions, or how consumer preferences are changing in certain countries or what product forms are gaining in popularity,” she explained, adding that ASMI is excited about the potential to attract more attendees. “This year is the opportunity to get more voices from more places and more aspects of our industry that maybe couldn’t have made a trip to Anchorage to participate in previous years,” she said. The All Hands on Deck conference and documents will be posted to the ASMI website. Register for free at www.alaskaseafood.org. Pacific Marine Expo, the West Coast’s largest annual trade show, has been transformed to Expo Online from Nov. 17-19 in Seattle, in partnership with National Fisherman. The three days of “conferences, contests and making connections” will showcase offshore wind power and commercial fishing, the latest in vessel design and gear technology, what’s next for the Pebble mine and a Fishing Industry Career Fair. The Expo plans to keep the show running through 2010 with monthly webinars that feature direct marketing, onboard safety drills, ocean health: reducing plastics, and Ask an Old Salt, to name a few. Register for free and get updates at www.NationalFisherman.com. Info gap Federal fishery overseers want to fill in some information gaps in their understanding of economic impacts by hearing from West Coast and Alaska fishermen via a short survey. Ocean Strategies is gathering the information and delivering it confidentially to NOAA to make sure those harvesters are included in the effort to document impacts to the commercial fishing industry. Contact Hannah Heimbuch at www.oceanstrat.com/ to take the five-minute survey. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Meeting season nears amid COVID-19 complications

Many Alaska fishermen are likely to be involved in regulatory meetings next spring instead of being out on the water. And Alaska legislators will be distracted by hearings for hundreds of unconfirmed appointments as they tackle contentious budgets and other pressing issues. New dates have been set for state Board of Fisheries meetings that were bumped from later this year due to COVID-19 concerns. During the same time, along with four unconfirmed seats on the fish board, the Alaska legislature also will be tasked with considering nominees for 137 state boards and commissions named by Gov. Mike Dunleavy during the 2020 session. State lawmakers were unable to do the usual in-depth vetting of appointees when the virus forced them to adjourn early. The upcoming round of board meetings focuses on management of subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries at Prince William Sound, Southeast and Yakutat, as well as statewide shellfish issues and hatcheries. The meeting dates of March 4, 2021, for the hatchery committee and March 5-10 for shellfish issues remain the same as originally scheduled. The Prince William Sound meetings, set to be held in Cordova, are now set to occur from March 30-April 5; for Southeast and Yakutat, the dates are April 17-29 with the meetings scheduled to be in Ketchikan. The plan is to hold in person meetings while monitoring COVID-19 threats that could lead to extra costs and complications, said Glenn Haight, executive director for the boards of both fisheries and game. The BOF will address 275 regulatory proposals in its upcoming meeting cycle. “We’re just going to see what happens with this year and hopefully things will settle down enough so we can get these proposals done,” he added. “Probably the biggest unknown is what happens if we’re in the meetings and participants get sick, certainly the ones that we are accountable for such as staff, board members and committee members,” Haight said. “That could lead to higher costs if a number of people are forced to quarantine in a hotel out of their own community. And it’s possible that if an outbreak occurs, the meeting is over. There are certain people we can’t conduct the meeting without and it could be that it’s all lost.” While nothing can replace meeting face to face, Haight said the response to online meetings via Zoom has been positive. One plus is that it is easy to bring in experts from far away to participate. “It was kind of nice during the recent work session to see how easy it was to bring in subject matter experts out of nowhere,” he explained. “If you’re meeting in Anchorage, for instance, you’re not going to be able to bring in our regional subsistence expert from Fairbanks. But all of a sudden, when we got to that point in the meeting, there she was available for questions. So it has some features that you can do a bit more with sometimes.” Meanwhile, four of the seven fish board seats are being held by voting members not yet approved by the Alaska Legislature, along with the hundreds of others. That means the appointment procedure goes back to square one, according to Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “Confirmations have to take place before we reconvene in mid-January. And if that doesn’t happen, then all these people have to be nominated again by the Dunleavy administration in the upcoming session,” Stutes said. But there appear to be some questions surrounding the process. “Our (natural resources) attorney general, Aaron Peterson, said they don’t have a solid answer and he was going to get back to the board on that,” said Glenn Haight. “It’s top of mind; it’s not just the Board of Fisheries, it’s all of the boards and commissions appointments that have been made. It’s a lot of individuals. So it’s very concerning for the state and they are looking into it.” Going for gold! Fishermen and state managers are testing the waters for a golden king crab fishery at Prince William Sound. Through the end of November, fishermen will drop pots for 15,000 pounds of goldens in a fishery that has been closed since 1989. Golden king crab are some of the deepest dwellers, living at depths of 900 meters, or nearly 3,000 feet. The stock was last surveyed in 2006, but stakeholders say they are seeing signs of increased abundance. “We believe that there is some golden king crab out there and our stakeholders proposed a few things at the last Board of Fish meeting,” said Wyatt Rhea-Fournier, Alaska Department of Fish and Game research project leader for groundfish and shellfish at lower Cook Inlet, the North Gulf Coast district, and Prince William Sound. “And, it was agreed that for this year we would go forward with a test fishery to try to gain more information. Once that is complete, the department will analyze the data and we will be gaining a lot of information within a low risk scenario.” At a time of tight budgets, a test fishery allows the crab that’s caught to be sold to a local processor to fund the research project. In this case, a harvest limited to 15,000 pounds will go to 60 Degrees North in Cordova, which also is subcontracting with boats to handle the harvest. The results of the test fishery will be presented to the Board of Fisheries at its statewide shellfish meeting in March. “And we just encourage everyone to be patient as we analyze this king crab data, and know that we’re always looking for an opportunity to provide a sustainable fishery,” Rhea-Fournier said. Golden king crab would be the second emerging crab fishery for Prince William Sound, following Tanner crab openers in March for three years running where catches have topped 100,000 pounds. The next test fishery for Prince William Sound could be sea cucumbers. Sitkan salute Fisherman, wife and mother, Yale graduate, national policy maker, former international commissioner and funding whiz Linda Behnken of Sitka has received a $250,000 cash award from the Heinz Family Foundation for her work promoting sustainable fishing practices and futures for Alaska harvesters and coastal communities. Behnken began fishing in Alaska in1982 to earn money for college. After earning a master’s degree at Yale, she returned to skipper her own boat. Not long after, she took the helm as executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, or ALFA, and has made favorable waves in Alaska and nationally ever since. Under her leadership, ALFA was successful in securing a ban on trawling in waters off Southeast Alaska, in an area covering more than 100,000 square miles. ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network forged ongoing partnerships between small boat fishermen and scientists to find ways to reduce whale interactions with fishing gear, map the ocean floor, avoid bycatch, and test electronic monitoring procedures. To build recruitment for the profession, the ALFA team created a Young Fishermen’s Initiative and launched a crew apprentice training program. Behnken also co-founded the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust that helps young fishermen overcome the high costs of entry through a Local Fish Fund where repayments are based on the price of their catches. ALFA was the first in Alaska to create a community-supported fishery called Alaskans Own, a subscription-based program in which customers pre-order a suite of local catches. Most recently, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and low salmon returns around the state, Alaskans Own helped coordinate donations and delivery of thousands of pounds of fish to families and elders throughout Southeast and at Chignik. At the national level, because there are no federal programs dedicated to training the next generation of fishermen (unlike farmers and ranchers), ALFA joined forces with the Fishing Communities Coalition to push for the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, which (if passed) would provide funding, training and education. Behnken also has served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and as a U.S. commissioner on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “Linda’s success in achieving collaboration between scientists, industry, and the fishermen who work the ocean for their livelihood is a model for effective environmental change,” said Teresa Heinz, chair of the Heinz Family Foundation. “Her efforts to drive policy and practices that protect the stability of Alaska’s coastal fishing communities and the ocean ecosystem on which they depend not only give us hope, they demonstrate what is possible when seemingly competing interests work together.” Linda Behnken fishes commercially with her husband and two sons. Selling survey More Alaska fishermen are selling their catches directly and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute hopes to give them a hand. ASMI is encouraging direct marketers to take a short survey to get a better understanding of their needs and help guide an effective strategy. Take the survey by Nov. 1 for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. Take the survey here or at www.alaskaseafood.org. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Supreme Court hears case in dispute over fisheries landings tax

Millions of dollars of fish landing taxes are at stake in a lawsuit now being deliberated by the Alaska Supreme Court and the decision could hang on when the court decides processed fish are “in-transit.” The court heard oral arguments Oct. 21 in a lawsuit brought against the State of Alaska by Seattle-based Fishermen’s Finest Inc. in which the company argues Alaska’s fishery resource landing tax violates a prohibition on taxes or fees levied against goods on the way to export in the U.S. Constitution. Jim Torgerson, an attorney for Fishermen’s Finest, argued that the fish harvested and processed in federal waters by the company’s catcher-processor vessels have started their journey to foreign markets when it arrives at Alaska ports but before being shipped worldwide. Torgerson stressed that the fish are caught and preserved in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, that starts three miles offshore and therefore the fish products are in-transit when they cross the three-mile boundary and enter state waters from the EEZ or, at the latest, when they are transferred elsewhere at the port. He said in response to questions from the justices about what constitutes a “significant movement” that crossing the three-mile boundary into state waters after all of the work on the actual fish has been completed is a key legal trigger. “The last thing for (the company) to do was to transfer the fish to the foreign markets and that transport process started when the vessels left the EEZ and spent a day or two traveling to Alaska into the ports, trans-loaded into the foreign vessels or into the refrigerated containers, so it was that actual movement, that actual transportation, that was commencement of that in-transit process,” Torgerson told the court. Fishermen’s Finest filed the lawsuit — technically an appeal of an administrative ruling in favor of the state — in May 2018. Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby sided with Fishermen’s Finest in a November 2019 ruling in which she concluded it violates the import-export clause because the fish are “in continuous export transit” when the tax is applied. The fishery resource landing tax generated nearly $12.5 million for the state and local governments in 2019, according to Tax Division records. It is levied based on 3 percent of the catch’s unprocessed value in established fisheries and 1 percent of the value in developing fisheries, as determined by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Unprocessed fish is not subject to the resource landing tax but could fall under the broader fisheries business tax. Leaders of coastal communities across the state said the fish tax revenues, which the state shares with local governments, are crucial for developing and maintaining the shore-side infrastructure used by the industry in those communities when Gov. Mike Dunleavy in 2019 proposed the state keep the local share of fish tax revenue to help close the state’s longstanding budget deficits. The Legislature ultimately rejected the governor’s plan for the state to retain all of the fish tax revenue. While the fish taxes are generally split 50-50 between the state and the local governments in which they are collected, qualifying statutory language can lessen a local government’s share below 50 percent. As a result, the local share of the fishery landing tax has been in the $5 million range shared by between eight and 14 mostly Western Alaska communities in recent years, according to Tax Division records. Fishermen’s Finest operates three catcher-processor vessels primarily out of Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Assistant Attorney General Laura Fox countered that the fishery resource landing tax, which targets catcher-processors, is not the kind of levy the constitutional framers envisioned because it doesn’t burden other states or harm any federal interests. “Catcher-processor operators take advantage of Alaska to further their business and Alaska’s landing tax merely requires them to pay their fair share for doing business in Alaska like other businesses do,” Fox told the justices in her opening remarks. She said the tax is applied when the processed fish lands at an Alaska dock and could still be sold domestically, while the export process starts when the fish “actually leaves Alaska.” According to Fox, applying legal tests to parse out exactly when the processed fish is “in-transit” in attempting to determine the constitutionality of the tax would simply lead to fishing companies altering their business models or the state restructuring how it is applied to “get around the technical line-drawing that’s trying to be done.” Torgerson acknowledged in response to questioning that the tax would not violate the import-export clause if the fish products stayed stateside, but emphasized the products in question in the case were sold in foreign markets. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Innovation helps avoid ‘getting whaled’

Lightweight collapsible pots prevent whales from pirating pricey black cod from longline hooks and give a break to small boats. “Getting whaled” is so pervasive fishery managers allowed black cod (sablefish) fishermen to switch from baited lines to rigid pots in the Bering Sea in 2008 and in the Gulf of Alaska starting in 2017. (Interestingly, killer whales rob the hooks in the Bering Sea, while sperm whales are the culprits in the Gulf.) “The whale predation has just been so horrible,” said Frank Miles of Kodiak, owner of 58-foot and 78-foot fishing boats. “The last couple years I tried to do it with hooks, and it just got to the point to where we left tens of thousands of pounds of black cod unharvested because we were going backwards feeding the whales. You can spread your strings 10 miles apart, and you might get one or two skates up and they find you. And then they pretty much strip you blind.” Analyses from federal surveys in 2013 showed that when killer whales were present during annual sablefish stock surveys, the whales removed 54 percent to 72 percent from the hooks. But switching from lines to pots is no easy deal. Miles said costs can run as high as a quarter-million dollars to buy rigid pots and add hydraulics and all the peripherals needed to run the heavy gear. The traditional pots also are too big and heavy for smaller boats, and they don’t have the power to pull it off the bottom. Leave it to fishermen’s ingenuity to solve the problem in the form of collapsible mesh pots with an added whale resistant twist. “The pots that I’m producing now are a hot dip galvanized, high carbon steel wire that is formed into a helical spring with a closed end at both ends. They also use knotless PE webbing, and the idea there is to have a small mesh size,” said Alexander Stubbs of Stubbs Marine in San Francisco. “It fishes better and it acoustically masks the fish in the pot. There’s a density difference between the PE mesh and water, and the idea is that it will obscure the acoustic echo return of fish trapped in the pot to try and prevent whales from messing with this gear.” Stubbs also is a small boat fisherman and research biologist and said he first noticed the pot design while doing field work in Asia where small collapsible spring traps are commonly used to catch specimens. “And I thought if we just size this up a lot, and make it way stronger, there might be a chance to use it in a black cod fishery,” he said. The pots cost about $150 each, roughly half the price of rigid pots. Stubbs developed the concept and fished the gear over three years and last fall sent the first batch of pots to Alaska. Frank Miles was one of the first to try them out. “The black cod pot limit is 300 and guys like to be able to bring their full complement and the big boats can do it. But you talk to the crew members that are working these heavy pots, or you’ve got two guys trying to stack pots 20 high in a rolling pitching sea, it can be an issue,” Miles said. “These coil pots weigh anywhere from seven to 10 pounds and they spring out 36 inches in height by five feet in length. So you’re getting a lot of cubes that are actually fishing. And in the pot world, cubes mean everything; the bigger the pot, the more fish it attracts. The results have been incredible.” Over the past year, Stubbs has sent several thousand pots to fishing operations throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea in collaboration with Pete Sawle at Fish Tech Inc. “I hear many positive reports from fishermen that seem to be having success using them. Even some of the schooner fleet has started fishing with them,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Until these pots came along, the small boats didn’t really have many options. Many fishermen that had purchased sablefish quota saw their investments lose substantial value as quota prices declined with the increased difficulty in harvesting the resource. “We’ve been feeding the whales for a long time and these pots seem to be an effective tool against them.” The ultimate goal of the new gear, Stubbs said, is to make fishermen’s businesses safer and more profitable. “If somebody else comes up with a better design for a collapsible pot, and it helps the fishery, I’ll be stoked on that as well,” he said. “I really think that overall, there is clearly a need for thinking outside the box about different ways to make space saving fish traps. And my hope is that this can be the first in a series of designs from me or other people.” Fish craze continues One unexpected constant amid the COVID-19 uncertainties is that people continue to buy and cook more seafood. Since March, when the pandemic led to lockdowns in the U.S. and elsewhere, consumer buying habits have busted several long held beliefs, including that Americans are reluctant to cook seafood at home. A poll of major retailers by the Global Aquaculture Alliance is consistent with other surveys that show evidence of the seafood-at-home craze is “overwhelming.” One U.S. supermarket chain reported a 40 percent increase in salmon and shrimp demand and a doubling in snow crab sales. Seafood was the most susceptible protein to price collapse given its dependence on foodservice sales. Early on, prices and sales for salmon and shrimp, for example, fell to the lowest value in years. Urner Barry, the nation’s oldest commodity market tracker since 1858, said the drastic price declines may have been a big reason behind the remarkable increase in retail seafood sales. Home deliveries also have surged. A silver lining is that people have found out that seafood is one of the easiest proteins to cook, said major buyers for Publix and Giant Eagle. And given the global health crisis, consumers also have switched for health reasons, such as boosting their immune system by eating a protein that is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Polls also said that “food-at-home fatigue” is real and retailers are preparing marketing campaigns to keep the boom alive. A lot depends on the status of restaurants. As many as 100,000 outlets have closed long-term or for good, according to the National Restaurant Association, and the change of seasons will curtail less restrictive outdoor dining options. The GAA poll said foodservice and retailers agree on one thing: the seafood marketplace has changed forever and companies that do the best will be those that embrace new consumer trends. Salmon sales watch The U.S. exported 9.2 million pounds of frozen H&G (headed and gutted) chum salmon worth $11 million in August, down 48 percent and 50 percent, respectively, year over year. Undercurrent News reports that the average price fell by 4 percent to $5.72 per pound from a year ago and by 10 percent from the previous month. Based on U.S. trade data, exports of U.S. frozen H&G sockeye salmon totaled nearly 26.6 million pounds worth $97.2 million in August, down 19 percent in volume and 9 percent in value from the same time last year. The average price hit its highest level since the beginning of the year at $8.04 per kilogram, or $17.68 per pound. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Gross, Sullivan spar in ComFish debate

After weeks of attack ads and snipes at each other in the media, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and challenger Al Gross laid into each other in real time during the 90-minute premiere debate in their race for a U.S. Senate seat. The Oct. 10 debate, hosted by ComFish Alaska and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, took place over Zoom and was centered around fisheries policy. The candidates early and often folded in central issues of the race, including campaign financing, the federal COVID-19 relief package and Pebble Mine. Sullivan, the Republican incumbent, repeatedly characterized Gross as a threat to giving Democrats control of the Senate. “He will … empower the radical left in the Senate, in the Congress,” Sullivan said in his closing remarks. “That has an anti-Alaska agenda. An agenda focused on shutting down fishing opportunities, more monuments, more Endangered Species Act designations. This is a huge threat to our state.” Gross, standing outside and wearing a camo jacket, talked of his childhood in Southeast Alaska and growing up as a fisherman. He aggressively went at Sullivan for not denouncing the development of the Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska earlier in the process. Repeatedly, Gross used the words of ousted Pebble executive Tom Collier, caught on video saying Sullivan was “hiding in a corner.” Gross used the words in talking about Sullivan’s stance on Pebble, but also other issues, including President Donald Trump’s trade war with China which increased tariffs on Alaskan seafood exports. “I wouldn’t stand back and be silent in the corner like Dan has been on Pebble mine, that’s for sure,” Gross said. “And sure wouldn’t be silent and in the corner when it comes to the trade war with China.” Sullivan said he made sure the process was based on science rather than politics. When federal agencies said the project should not move forward, he agreed. “The Pebble Mine is dead, and I am going to keep it that way,” Sullivan said. The senator also said he would give the donations his campaign received from Collier to charity — a request Gross has centered campaign ads around. Sullivan touted his work getting more ice breakers approved, and his Save the Seas Act legislation, which focuses on cleaning up marine debris. Sullivan also brought up his support of and work on the CARES Act, which brought financial relief to Alaska’s fishing industry. Sullivan went after Gross for an ad where he attacks Sullivan for voting for a “$2 trillion bailout bill.” Gross said bailouts aren’t always bad, and while he would have supported the CARES Act, he said he would have fought harder to steer more of the money to Alaska. Following the debate, both campaigns sent out messaging, highlighting the points Sullivan and Gross made throughout the debate. “With Dr. Al Gross as their next senator, Alaskans will have a thoughtful leader who deeply understands their issues as a commercial fisherman himself and wants to advocate on their behalf in the Senate,” the Gross campaign email said. “Dan Sullivan on the other hand has spent the last six years claiming to represent Alaskans while living in the back pockets of out-of-state corporations and Pebble Mine executives.” Sullivan’s campaign email said the senator highlighted his work for the Alaskan fishing industry, in stark contrast with Gross, who lost his composure and failed to hide his allegiance to national Democrats. “It was sad to see Al Gross repeatedly disparage the United Fishermen of Alaska and their endorsement of Senator Sullivan, particularly after he unsuccessfully solicited their endorsement in February,” campaign manager Matt Shuckerow said in the campaign email.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Fisheries