Fisheries

Crab harvests set: Kings still in decline, snow and Tanner see bump

This year has brought little good news for commercial fisheries, but the commercial crab fishermen in the Bering Sea are getting some in the form of some increased catch limits. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its 2020-21 total allowable catch, or TAC, limits for Bering Sea snow and bairdi Tanner crab, and Bristol Bay red king crab on Oct. 1. While the red king crab TAC slid downward again in the continuation of a long-term decline, the snow crab TAC ticked up significantly. A portion of the bairdi crab fishery will also be open again after being closed for the 2019-20 season. Commercial fishermen will be allowed to harvest a total of 45 million pounds of snow crab from the Bering Sea waters this year, with 4.5 million of that set aside for Community Development Quota groups and the rest for individual fishing quota, or IFQ, holders. That’s about 34 percent larger than the limit last season, which was also an increase over the previous year. Bering Sea Crabbers Association Executive Director Jamie Goen said that’s good news for the fleet. However, members of the fleet also think that TAC could have been a lot higher had the National Marine Fisheries Service been able to conduct its regular surveys. The federal surveys were canceled this year due to concerns about spreading COVID-19, and so the fishery managers weren’t able to get as much data as usual to make their limit decisions. When faced with a lack of information, fishery managers generally default to conservative management. Goen said this emphasizes the importance of data to the fisheries. “We think there is a 30-year high of (snow) crab out there,” she said. “We’re pleased with this year’s TACs… to me, (this year) stresses the importance of these surveys.” The Western Bering Sea bairdi crab fishery availability is good news, too. Last year, low survey numbers for mature female biomass in the fishery triggered a closure, despite fishermen saying they were seeing plenty of crab. The Board of Fisheries tweaked the management plan for bairdi, also known as Tanner crab, in the Bering Sea earlier this year, and the fishery is set to open in the Western district with a quota of about 2.4 million pounds, with 234,800 of those set aside for CDQ groups. The fishery in the Eastern district of the Bering Sea will remain closed this season, as will the St. Matthew Island section blue king crab fishery. The Board of Fisheries met just before the pandemic began in March and adjusted the management plan for the bairdi crab fishery to address the issue with the fishery triggers. “It was a great process,” Goen said. “They figured out how to create more stability in our fishery.” That TAC is still significantly lower than some of the higher limits between 2014-18, according to a report from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. NMFS noted that the mature male biomass in the Bering Sea bairdi fishery is still declining, and is “approaching the very low levels seen in the mid-1990s to early 2000s.” Discard mortality is significant in both the bairdi and snow crab fisheries in the Bering Sea. According to reports provided to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for its Oct. 2 meeting, the most recent recorded discard mortality in the Bering Sea snow crab fishery was 33 percent of the total retained catch, the highest fraction on record. There wasn’t any bycatch of bairdi crab in the directed fishery last year because it was closed, but significant amounts of bairdi are regularly caught as bycatch in the snow crab, groundfish, and Bristol Bay red king crab fisheries. Bristol Bay red king crab harvests remain in decline. The TAC for the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is set at approximately 2.6 million pounds, down about 1 million pounds from last year’s TAC of 3.7 million pounds. The fishery has been consistently seeing low recruitment, with mature biomass trending downward since 2009, though the 2020 biomass estimates are slightly higher than last year, according to a report provided to the NPFMC from Fish and Game biologists. The exact reason for the long-term decline isn’t certain, but it’s unlikely to bounce back at this rate to the highs seen in the 1970s. “Due to lack of recruitment, mature and legal crab should continue to decline next year,” the report states. “Current crab abundance is still low relative to the late 1970s, and without favorable environmental conditions, recovery to the high levels of the late 1970s is unlikely.” Goen said this isn’t surprising to the fleet, and many of the boats that participate in the red king crab fishery also participate in the snow crab and tanner crab fisheries. The Bering Sea Crabbers Association represents about 70 percent of the crabbers in the region. The crab fisheries are set to open on Oct. 15. What remains to be seen is how the vessels and processors manage the fishery under COVID-19 mitigation protocols. Commercial fishermen and processors all over the state scrambled in March to put together mitigation plans for the virus, looking for ways to control it in the normally cramped conditions aboard vessels and in processing plants. A number of processing plants around the state reported outbreaks among workers over the summer, but the number of cases tapered off over the summer. In Bristol Bay, coordinated response from the fleet and processors led to control of the pandemic and prevention of spread to the surrounding villages. Goen said COVID-19 mitigation is at the forefront of crabbers’ minds as they get ready to head out on the water. Some have had a head start at mitigation from tendering during the salmon season, as have the processors, but there are still issues to work out. Staffing has been a major issue for processors this year, for example. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Loan program established for entry-level fishermen

More young Alaskans are officially among the next generation of professional fishermen and ocean stewards to hail from Cordova, Haines, Homer, Ketchikan and Sitka. The futures of eight fishermen were cemented thanks to $1.5 million in loans from a Local Fish Fund, or LFF, launched in 2019 that enabled them to buy into halibut and sablefish fisheries that normally would be out of reach. Buying quota shares of halibut, for example, can cost from $40 to $55 per pound. “I’m super excited that we were able to move the $1.5 million that was provided to us to invest in new entrants. Some are deckhands and some are vessel owners. I’m just really pleased at how this has gone for this first tranche of funding,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Sitka-based Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust that worked for a decade in partnership with conservation and finance experts to craft the fund. “The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” Behnken added. “As a result, the number of young rural residents entering the fisheries has dropped significantly over the past 15 years. Local Fish Fund lowers both the risk and the initial cost new entrants face.” The fishermen will repay the loans based on the prices they get for their catch. “It’s just a really different loan instrument,” Behnken said. The LFF works on a 10 percent down payment and the borrower’s risk is shielded to that amount. The loan is secured by the quota shares of the fish they are purchasing. Payments are based on what the borrower makes from fishing and fluctuate as the price of fish or the quota goes up or down. Behnken said the structure allows borrowers to build equity and a credit history over a five- or six-year period that should enable them to qualify for refinancing with a traditional lender. The LFF also incentivizes ocean stewardship by giving fishermen a small break on their loan interest by participating in local projects such as electronic monitoring, mapping the ocean floor, logging bycatch to avoid hotspots or networking to keep whales away from fishing gear. “There are many opportunities for fishermen and the scientific community to team up to get a better understanding of our fisheries and the ocean environment. Some of the partners we’re working with are coming specifically from that impact investment sector that is trying to obtain conservation goals through innovative lending,” said Dustin Solberg of Cordova, a spokesman for the Nature Conservancy, which works with fishing communities around the world to develop economic incentives for good stewardship. The Nature Conservancy, Rasmuson Foundation and Catch Together capitalized the loan fund. Craft3, a nonprofit based in Oregon and Washington, is underwriting, closing and servicing the LFF loans. Fund managers now will take about a year to assess the LFF program and determine the timing and sizing of a future round of lending. They already have a list of interested applicants, Behnken said, and the goal is to expand LFFs to help safeguard Alaska’s fisheries for future generations. Bering Sea gets three Bering Sea crabbers will drop pots for king crab, snow crab and bairdi Tanners when the fisheries get underway on Oct. 15. As expected, the catch was reduced for red king crab taken in the eastern Bering Sea waters of Bristol Bay; just 2.6 million pounds is a 30 percent drop from the 3.8 million pounds taken last season. “We’ve heard from scientists in the past that there has not been good recruitment into that fishery for over a decade,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents harvesters. For the first time since 2018 there will be a bairdi Tanner crab opener with a catch of 2.3 million pounds. And as expected, the catch for snow crab was increased, but not by as much as crabbers had hoped. Managers set the snow crab catch at 45 million pounds, a 32 percent increase from last season’s take of 34 million pounds. Signs point to a strong market for snow crab, predicts market expert John Sackton, founder of SeafoodNews.com. The crab has been one of the top selling seafood items all year and Sackton said “snow crab is currently oversold, and back up to record price levels.” He credits the Bering Sea crab’s popularity to several things; above all, 16 years of non-stop exposure from the wildly popular “Deadliest Catch” television show. “In this case, crab has benefitted from hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of television exposure consistently, year after year. It is my view that this exposure has increased demand for snow crab,” Sackton wrote in a market analysis. The fact that snow crab is precooked and ready to eat is a big plus, and a waning Japanese market has provided more snow crab to U.S. buyers. The market also is expanding to China and more European countries. Sackton said snow crab from eastern Canada, the world’s largest producer, already is oversold and orders are now being filled with crab from Russia. “There is little snow crab available and buyers are scrambling to cover their sales,” he said, adding that means customers will now have the option to buy more snow crab from Alaska until Canada’s fishery reopens in April. No urchin searchin’ Alaska has urchin fisheries each October in Southeast and Kodiak, but they attract almost no interest from divers. A harvest of just less than 3 million pounds of red urchins is allowed at Southeast this year, but that may not be a true representation of the stock. “That’s a little bit of a ghost guideline average level, because there aren’t that many sea urchins still here,” said Phil Doherty, co-director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association in Ketchikan. Since the 1980s and ‘90s, Doherty said the bulk of the sea urchin beds have been wiped out by sea otters. “That’s the No. 1 factor in the lack of production in Southeast Alaska, and there’s nothing that’s going to happen here in the foreseeable future that’s going to change that,” he said. A second reason for the disinterest is the difficulty getting the delicate uni from the softball-sized urchins to Japanese markets in top condition. Uni, or roe from sea urchins, is a popular delicacy with many sushi lovers. “The Japanese market is very particular on how seafood looks and uni is one of them. It’s very difficult to crack open the urchins and get the roe out and pack it and have it look good, and then put it in special containers and get it onto the airlines and get it over to Japan, which is the main market,” he explained. The most recent Southeast harvest of about 700,000 pounds of urchins in 2015 was taken by a handful of divers who got 49 cents per pound. Green urchins that are found around Kodiak Island are preferred over the reds. But a lack of markets also has stalled fishing interest there and no harvest has occurred since 2001. “It’s not that the harvest stopped because we had concerns about the stock. It was largely market driven. I think the major barriers for even a small scale fishery is finding a market and getting them there in good condition,” said Nat Nichols, groundfish and shellfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. In the 1980s, Nichols said landings of the hockey puck-sized green urchins reached about 80,000 pounds. Now the harvest limit is 65,000 pounds, but no divers have signed up for the fishery. Urchin uni is more familiar to U.S. buyers now than in the past, Nichols said, and perhaps there might be more local interest. “If you could develop a smaller local market, it would alleviate the issue of getting bigger loads of product in good condition. That might spur more participation,” he said, adding that he is interested in working with anyone who wants to revive Kodiak’s urchin fishery. Pollock push No fishing sector is more driven to build demand for their products than Alaska’s pollock industry. The trade group Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP, announced last week that nearly $750,000 will fund seven familiar food purveyors who are launching new products. Gorton’s Seafood received funding to launch a campaign called, “Move Over Meat, it’s Seafood Time” that will feature Alaska pollock recipes and highlight the health benefits of eating more seafood. High Liner Foods will introduce its new Alaska Wild Pollock Fish Wings as part of its “Go Wild” line in convenience stores and quick serve restaurants. 7-Eleven was awarded funding for a follow-up 2021 promotion to its popular wild Alaska pollock fish sandwich that debuted during Lent this year. Pescanova USA will use funds to introduce its new chilled Fettuccine Protein Pasta made from Alaska pollock that will be marketed as “all good, no guilt” pasta. Restaurant Depot will begin carrying a variety of Alaska pollock products in its club stores, and a partnership with Louis Kemp and celebrity chef Nancy Fuller will showcase wild Alaska pollock snacks during the 2021 Super Bowl. The ongoing funding is part of GAPP’s partnership programs in North America and Europe to provide support for companies who want to bring new products to market or introduce Alaska pollock where the fish has not had visibility. GAPP has committed nearly $3 million toward this initiative for 2019-2020. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

State CARES plan splits $50M among fishery sectors

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials plan to evenly distribute $50 million in fisheries pandemic relief aid among the sport, commercial and processing sectors with smaller amounts set aside for mitigating impacts to aquaculture businesses and subsistence harvesters. The department’s draft plan allocates 32 percent of the $50 million, or about $16 million, for the three major sectors of Alaska’s fishing industry; $500,000, or 1 percent of the funds would go to aquaculture businesses and $1.5 million, or 3 percent of the total would be dedicated to offset challenges to subsistence harvests. The money is Alaska’s share of $300 million Congress directed for fishery relief nationwide in the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in the early days of business shutdowns and travel restrictions nationwide. While the state reliably accounts for more than half of the country’s commercial seafood landings and has a robust sport fishing industry, the CARES fisheries money was calculated state-by-state based on the residency of commercial harvesters and the homeport for at-sea processing vessels, per guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the seven-page spending plan states. According to the plan, NOAA Fisheries calculated the total revenue from the sport, commercial and processing sectors in eligible jurisdictions. “For Alaska, average annual landings revenue data in the commercial harvesting sector was adjusted to attribute landing to each vessel owner’s state of residence to better reflect where fishing income accrues,” the plan states. “The adjustments were made by determining the proportion of landings in Alaska fisheries attributed to vessel owners residing in another state and attributing that portion of the revenue to the respective states of residence.” Eligible applicants in a fishing business must certify that they incurred a revenue loss of more than 35 percent during the period from March 1 to Nov. 1 directly resulting from the pandemic. Revenue figures from that period will be compared against gross revenue totals from the previous five years for the period. Applicants must have operated their business in 2018 and 2019 but those without revenue records for all of the previous five years will be able to average gross revenues from the available years. Projections of income or losses will not be accepted, according to the plan documents. The revenue information NOAA Fisheries used to reach the $50 million allocation for Alaska attributed 5.5 percent of qualifying revenue to the sport charter sector, 35.2 percent to the commercial harvesting sector and 59.3 percent to seafood processors, wholesalers and distributors. However, those revenue splits were based on historical information and do not reflect the likely loss in each sector due to the pandemic, according to ADFG. The sport charter allocation was increased significantly “to help mitigate loss to that sector resulting from travel restrictions and health mandates that reduced demand for sport charter services,” the plan states. While state officials deemed fishing an essential industry in spring when other business sectors were forced to temporarily close, nonresident sport charter customers were not given special clearance to travel to Alaska as nonresident commercial fishing and processing workers were. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said she could not comment on the plan because the large organization’s board of directors had not formally reviewed it. Leaders of several other commercial fishing groups across the state said they were similarly in the process of reviewing the plan. ADFG is taking public comments on the draft plan through Oct. 19. Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ben Mohr said the even split among the three large sectors is a recognition of that issue. Mohr noted that many commercial fishery participants dealt with lower market prices stemming from a lack of restaurant demand, particularly in spring, but emphasized that they were still able to fish. “Many of our sport and charter folks didn’t get to fish at all. The tourist business that these guys rely on didn’t materialize,” he said. Mohr said anecdotal reports indicate many Southcentral sport fishing guide and charter operators took between a 60 to 70 percent loss in revenue this year and the losses were often worse for those in more remote locations where travel was even more difficult. In Southeast, where cruise ships bring more than 1 million potential charter customers to Alaska each year, the losses for some businesses have reached 90 percent of their usual revenue, according to Mohr. He added that some operators likely offered deep discounts or resident specials in order to generate more business and questioned how many of them would not hit the 35 percent loss threshold because of it. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will publish the final application materials and review and approve the federal aid applications for the state, according to the plan. The $1.5 million subsistence allocation is set to be split evenly among qualify applicants, provided a member of an applying household participated in a marine or anadromous subsistence fishery in at least two of the previous four years. ADFG Legislative Liaison Rachel Hanke wrote via email that discussions with members of communities with high rates of subsistence harvests revealed that the biggest impact to them was from travel restrictions. Many younger Alaskans that have moved to urban centers were unable to travel to their home villages and communities to participate in harvests, according to Hanke. She wrote that the eligible subsistence impacts could be broad and “any impact at all that meets the intent of the act” will be allowable. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Short salmon supplies send prices upward

Now that the 2020 pack of Alaska salmon has been caught and put up, stakeholders will get a better picture of how global prices may rise or fall. Nearly 75 percent of the value of Alaska’s salmon exports is driven by sales between July and October. And right now, lower supplies of wild Pacific salmon by the major producers are pushing up prices as the bulk of those sales are made. For sockeye salmon, global supplier and market tracker Tradex reports that frozen fillets are in high demand and supplies are hard to source for all sizes. With a catch this year topping 45 million, Alaska is the leading producer of that popular commodity. “Luckily, sockeye harvests were once again abundant in Bristol Bay as fishermen caught nearly 200 million pounds. Although that’s a bigger than average harvest for Bristol Bay, it’s still down 9 percent from last year. With lower sockeye harvests in Russia and closures in Canada, we estimate the global sockeye harvest declined by 26 percent in 2020,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association speaking on the Tradex Three-Minute Market Report. Tradex reports that sockeye prices are “significantly higher than last year” and suggests that suppliers are stockpiling inventories in their freezers. “Our recommendation for sockeye buyers is similar to a few weeks ago, which is to secure your supply now. Sockeye prices are anticipated to make a good bull-run before moving into a bear-type market,” said correspondent Tasha Cadence. Tradex predicts the same for wild chum salmon due to low catches from all producers. “In speaking to our VP of Asia Operations, he advised they are anticipating that new season chum won’t be available until the end of September and that salmon will certainly be very short this year,” Cadence added. “Both from Russia and Alaska, and the estimated raw materials price will go up to $4,300 per metric ton, which translates to about $1.95 to $2 per pound.” And the same holds true for pink salmon, where big shortfalls from Russia are biting into the global supply. Prices for pink salmon that are processed in China and distributed back to the U.S. and other countries have increased from $2,600 to $3,400 per metric ton, or from $1.20 to $1.55 per pound. “Going back a few weeks it was reported that Russian boats did not even want to make commitments at the higher prices as they wanted pricing at even higher levels,” Cadence said. A weakening dollar also means foreign customers can buy more U.S. salmon for less. How the initial uptick in salmon commodity markets might play out in fishermen’s paychecks remains to be seen. Alaska processors typically post a base price as a placeholder when the salmon season gets underway. Then, bonuses for fish that is chilled, bled or delivered are often sent to fishermen in the fall, and any profit sharing checks usually arrive the following spring. “Retro-payments more than anything are a payment to appease the fleet and keep them from jumping to another processor,” said a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman. “There are many instances where a processor has paid their ‘retro’ or adjustment in the spring, only to have to make another payment in early June to match competitors. Price adjustments are a dark art and there is no set formula as it relates to the sale of the pack.” Fish on! Salmon numbers continue to trickle in but Alaska’s total catch won’t add up to much more than 114 million fish, about 85 percent of what state managers predicted for the 2020 season. Of that, more than 45 million are sockeyes and 58 million are pinks. Landings of just more than 2 million cohos are the lowest since the mid-1970s and a chum salmon harvest of just less than 8 million is the weakest since 1979. Chinook volumes also are well below historical levels. The preliminary value of Bristol Bay’s 40.7 million salmon catch, nearly all sockeyes, is $140.7 million, ranking ninth in the last 20 years. That doesn’t include any postseason price bonuses. As always, there is a lot of fishing action going on after salmon. At Southeast Alaska, beam trawlers are back on the water targeting 650,000 pounds of pink and sidestripe shrimp in a third opener. Southeast’s Dungeness season reopened on Oct. 1 and a few million pounds are likely to come out of that fishery. There will again be no opener for red or blue king crab due to low abundances. On Oct. 5, a hundred or more divers also could be heading down for over 1.7 million pounds of red sea cucumbers. A catch of just less than 3 million pounds of sea urchins also is up for grabs, but there may be a lack of buyers. Southeast divers also are targeting giant geoduck clams. At Prince William Sound, a 15,000-pound test fishery is underway for golden king crabs through October; likewise, a nearly 7 million-pound golden king crab fishery is ongoing along the Aleutian Islands. Kodiak crabbers have pulled up more than 2.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab so far with a few weeks left to go in the season. A sea cucumber fishery opened at Kodiak on Oct. 1 with a 130,000-pound limit. Halibut landings were approaching 13 million pounds, or 79 percent of the 16 million-pound catch limit. Homer, Kodiak and Seward are the top ports for landings. For sablefish (black cod), the catch was nearing 17 million pounds, or 52 percent of the nearly 32 million pound quota. Seward, Kodiak, Sitka and Dutch Harbor were getting the most deliveries. Both of those fisheries end in early November. The Bering Sea pollock fishery closes on Nov. 1. Alaska pollock is the nation’s top food fishery and the Bering Sea will produce more than 3 billion pounds again this year. And as always, fisheries for cod, flounders, rockfish and much more are ongoing in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Finally, the state Board of Fisheries has accepted 275 proposals to address at its as yet undetermined meetings on Prince William Sound and Southeast subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries and statewide shellfish. Meeting dates have been bumped from this winter to sometime next year due to COVID-19 constraints. The board will consider new meeting dates at an Oct. 15-16 virtual work session. Halibut survey success A “resounding success” is how scientists summed up this summer’s Pacific halibut survey despite it being shortened and scaled down a bit due to COVID-19 constraints. The so-called fishery-independent setline survey uses standardized methods to track population trends in the Pacific halibut stock, which ranges from the west coast and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. For two months this summer, 11 longline vessels (down from the usual 17) took halibut survey experts aboard to fish at 898 stations, down 30 percent from the planned 1,283. The foregone areas were waters off California, Oregon and Washington. Survey areas in the Bering Sea near the Pribilofs also were cut, along with stations at the Aleutian Islands near Unalaska and Adak. “We also thinned out a little bit in the Western Gulf of Alaska, and we also removed the stations off Vancouver Island,” said David Wilson, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission which oversees the stock for the U.S. and Canada. Still, Wilson said roughly 70 percent of the Pacific halibut biomass was sampled overall and 100 percent in the core areas of the central Gulf, Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia. “Normally we would have done a thinner sampling in those areas but to ensure that we had enough samples coming out we went for 100 percent in those areas,” he explained, calling it the “most data-rich setline-survey in the IPHC’s 97 year history.” The halibut that are caught during the survey are sold to cover the cost of the operation. Wilson said the poundage and prices will be revealed next month at the IPHC interim meeting. “The key thing is that we were able to meet both our scientific requirements and also maintain our economic goal of revenue neutrality,” he said. The Nov. 18-19 meetings, which will be held online, also will provide a first glimpse at how the halibut stocks are holding up. “The interim meeting is usually an information sharing meeting for stakeholders where we present the preliminary stock assessments and the outcomes of other research activity. We also put out some of the regulatory proposals we will be considering at the annual meeting,” Wilson said. Halibut catch limits and other regulations will be revealed in late January. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Chum, chinook returns fall short across Yukon, Western Alaska

Poor chum and coho returns led to some of the lowest commercial harvests in decades across much of Western Alaska and biologists are unsure why far fewer Yukon chinook are making it to Canada in recent years. The Yukon River summer chum return of approximately 733,000 fish was sufficient to meet the minimum escapement goal for the entirety of the massive drainage but it did not allow for a significant commercial fishery and was far less than expectations. Fishing was closed through the first half of the run while it was unclear if a harvestable surplus of chum would be available according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary Yukon River summer fishery summary. Commercial fishermen, primarily in the lower Yukon, harvested just 13,968 chums in the summer fishery, which was 97 percent less than the five-year average of nearly 449,000 fish. The minimal catch translated to a total-fishery ex-vessel value of just $51,440 in 2020 for a fishery that typically generates roughly $1.5 million, though prices of 60 cents per pound for lower Yukon chum and 29 cents per pound were in line with previous years. Prices in some other salmon fisheries were low — particularly early in the season — as the pandemic slowed restaurant demand for fish. Managers had predicted a rather average return of about 1.9 million summer chum, which would have left a harvestable surplus of about 1.1 million fish, according to ADFG. The summer fishery comprises chinook and chum that enter the river generally before July 15, at which point management in the lower Yukon transitions to the fall chum and coho runs. The chinook return of an estimated 161,859 fish to the Pilot Station sonar was less than last year when 219,624 chinook reached the lower Yukon, but was in line with the expected return. However, an unusually small portion of the fish passed the sonar at Eagle near the Canadian border. Managers estimated 77,000 of the chinook were of Canadian origin based on in-season run assessments, yet just 33,005 fish were counted at Eagle, according to the summary. The minimum escapement goal for passage beyond Eagle is 42,500 chinook, which also does not provide for harvest in Canada per the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Managers speculated that near record-high water levels in the Yukon from a deep snowpack possibly fatigued fish that otherwise would have reached Eagle. They also documented reports of high rates of Ichthyophonus, a parasite, in salmon caught in the upper river, which could have increased mortality. On the bright side, the chinook sampled by ADFG biologists at Eagle were older and more of them were female than in recent years. Age-6 chinook comprised 53 percent of the sampled fish — above the 10-year average — and 3 percent were age-7 salmon. Females comprised 54 percent of the sampled fish, compared to 44 percent over the past decade, according to department data. Biologists have documented a general decrease in the size of chinooks across their range in recent years, largely because more of the fish are returning at age-4 or age-5. The smaller salmon are less likely to spawn successfully and smaller females carry fewer eggs, which also reduces the odds of offspring. Kotzebue Sound To the north, low commercial catches in July and concerns from subsistence harvesters about poor chum catches along the Kobuk River caused Kotzebue-area managers to cut commercial fishing time from 60 hours per week in July to as little as 24 hours per week in early August. The harvest of 149,808 chums was the lowest in the Kotzebue District set net fishery since 2007 and netted $542,308 in ex-vessel value, according to ADFG figures. The fishery has a long-term average harvest of approximately 230,000 chum but it produced a catches of greater than 400,000 fish from 2016-2019. Kotzebue chum sold for an average of 45 cents per pound this year, which was up from 39 cents a year ago. Norton Sound In addition to also having their smallest chum harvest since 2008, Norton Sound fishermen dealt with a very small coho return. The poor showings from the primary species targeted in the district led to a catch of 50,679 salmon in all, which was just 15 percent of the 10-year average harvest, according to the Norton Sound season summary. The cumulative ex-vessel value of $290,302 for the five-species harvest was just 12 percent of the five-year average. The Norton Sound catch generated approximately $2.1 million last year and more than $4 million in 2018. The Norton Sound pink salmon run was — as it has been of late — a near-record return. However, processors shied away from purchasing them, according to ADFG managers, resulting in a catch of 6,950 pinks. That was down from a harvest of more than 75,000 a year ago. The 2020 Norton Sound coho harvest of 14,650 fish was less than 10 percent of the five-year average and the 26,365-fish chum harvest was 17 percent of the five-year average of 151,442 salmon. Additionally, 906 Chinook and 1,808 sockeye were harvested from Norton Sound. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]journal.com.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI survey sheds light on pandemic impacts

Some surprising results are revealed in the first of a series of briefing papers showing how Alaska’s seafood industry has been affected by the pandemic from dock to dinner plates. The updates, compiled by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, show that so far the amount of seafood that has been harvested is in line with previous years. “While 2020 harvests have been significantly lower in some salmon fisheries…the declines are due to weak runs rather than reduced effort or other forces that might have some connection with the pandemic,” according to the latest brief. “If we forgot about the pandemic and we just look at how much has been harvested, we’re similar to past years, so that’s a vote of confidence there,” said Garret Evridge, a McDowell fishery economist. Market disruptions and increased operating costs definitely put downward pressure on the value of all that seafood, with the price plummet at Bristol Bay being perhaps the most striking example. The preliminary value of the Bay’s fishery this year is $140.7 million (not including post-season bonuses), compared to the all-time high of $306.5 million in 2019. “And that certainly seems to be the trend across nearly all species. Generally, the pandemic has depressed prices across the board,” Evridge said. Also pushing down the value was a smaller processing work force. The extra efforts to manage and mitigate COVID-19-related risks “are believed to be the primary cause of a 13 percent overall decline reported for July 2020, a decline of 2,500 jobs from July 2019,” the September brief said. Chaotic market changes also forced workers to produce lower valued salmon products. Using Bristol Bay again as an example, where a compressed run plugged processing plants with millions of salmon, time and labor constraints meant that most of the fish had to be headed/gutted and frozen or canned instead of being trimmed up for pricier fresh or frozen fillets. “What that effectively does is it reduces the average value per pound of the Bristol Bay pack, which is particularly difficult in a year when operating costs have increased so much,” Evridge said. Those added costs aren’t going away anytime soon. There are no hard data yet but interviews with processors indicate at least $50 million has been spent so far by inshore and offshore sectors, said Dan Lesh, a McDowell senior analyst. “It’s definitely an estimate and it’s a number that’s likely to increase, not only through the end of 2020, but into 2021 and as long as this pandemic is in effect. We’re trying to communicate that the industry is sustaining real operating cost increases,” Lesh said. “The industry is taking on these costs out of pocket at the same time we are facing severe disruption in key markets and multiple pre-COVID cost burdens,” said Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods at a July 29 U.S. Senate committee hearing. “While a fraction of these costs may be reimbursed, we face significant uncertainty because there’s no specific congressional directive to support health and safety protocol costs for critical seafood supply chains,” Campbell said, adding that COVID-19 prevention measures have not been included so far in federal relief loans and funds. The McDowell team is waiting a few more months to get a better understanding of how COVID-19 has affected volumes and values of Alaska’s top export. August and September are the peak export months for Alaska seafood; for salmon, about 75 percent of annual exports (by value) occur between July and October. One advantage, Evridge said, is that global currency rates are playing in our favor. The dollar has trended weaker since February, making Alaska seafood more affordable to foreign buyers. “It’s important to focus on these bright spots,” Evridge said. “But there still is a big trade imbalance there with Russia, not to mention the ongoing trade war with China.” Overall, and despite all the difficulties, Evridge called 2020 “largely a success” for Alaska’s fisheries. “We’re still harvesting 5 to 6 billion pounds of seafood, the values are down, but we haven’t fallen off a cliff,” he said. “If you just think back to the early stages of the pandemic, we were talking about the possibility of Bristol Bay not even opening and some of the worst scenarios weren’t actually realized. So that’s a real positive.” Dinner plate update Seafood is benefitting from three major eating trends during the pandemic and they are expected to continue. “The first is the huge increase in home cooking as fewer people eat in restaurants,” said John Sackton, founder of SeafoodNews.com. “Second is the big increase in using frozen food, which is especially advantageous for the seafood industry, and third is the continued emphasis on health and diet during the pandemic.” He added that national trend tracker IRI has been reporting on changes in protein and frozen food at retail grocery, and that the trends for both frozen and fresh seafood continue to be more positive than any other category. “The continued strength of seafood consumption suggests that the strong performance of seafood at home will continue through the holidays and into the Lent season next year,” Sackton said. That’s backed up by surveys done by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which has been quickly adapting to the challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic. “In December of 2019 before COVID, 70 percent of consumers cooked three times a week at home, and since COVID, 66 percent said they now cook at home more frequently,” said Arianna Elnes, an ASMI spokesperson. She added that for the first half of 2020 restaurant sales were $65 billion lower, while U.S. grocery store sales for all products were up $43 billion from the same time last year. To accommodate the increased interest in frozen foods and food safety, Elnes said ASMI quickly revamped its flagship “Cook it Frozen” campaign. “This focused on filling the pantry and freezers and featured at a glance cooking tips and recipe ideas to help consumers build confidence in cooking wild Alaska seafood at home,” Elnes said. “The campaign was launched in March, right at the onset of COVID, and in May frozen seafood sales at retail were up 66 percent.” ASMI also has partnered with notable chefs and dieticians on Instagram for Seafood Sundays and other cooking specials. Its survey of more than 13,000 consumers also showed that consumers want to know where there food comes from and that fishermen and farmers hold the most trust at nearly 70 percent. “We’re really trying to focus on origin,” Elnes said. “When we talk about local eating, it doesn’t just mean in terms of distance, but local as in knowing where it comes from. So we’ve launched a Choose Alaska campaign and it pitches seafood as critical to the national and global food supply chain, and it lets people know that when they’re buying Alaska, they’re supporting people’s livelihoods.” Elnes added that direct marketing by more fishermen also is on an upward trajectory. ASMI has posted a short survey to identify ways to assist with direct sales. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Tariff relief payment applications now open through Dec. 14

Alaska fishermen can increase their federal trade relief funds by adding higher poundage prices for 15 fish and shellfish species. While it’s welcomed, the payouts are a band-aid on a bigger and ongoing problem. Through Dec. 14, fishermen can apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) if their bottom line has been hurt by the Trump Administration’s ongoing trade standoffs, primarily with China. “STRP is part of a federal relief strategy to support fishermen and other producers while the administration continues to work on free, fair and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets to help American producers compete globally,” said a USDA fact sheet. The damages to fishermen are calculated as the difference with a trade tariff and the baseline without it based on 2019 catches. For cod, for example, that adds up to an extra 14 cents per pound. So, a fisherman who had cod landings last year of 375,000 pounds would multiply that by 0.14 for a trade relief payment of $52,500. Salmon fishermen can add 16 cents per pound across the board. For Alaska crabbers, 47 cents per pound can be added to 2019 catches for Dungeness, king crab, snow crab and Tanners. Geoduck divers can add 76 cents to their total poundage. It’s 10 cents for sablefish, Atka mackerel and Pacific Ocean perch, 15 cents for flounders, sole and turbot, 4 cents for herring, and an extra one penny per pound for Alaska pollock. Eligible fisherman can fill out a “2020 Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) Application,” found at www.farmers.gov and at USDA Farm Service Agencies. In Alaska there are three locations at Homer, Kenai and the statewide office in Palmer. Fishermen who have applied reported it was a fairly easy process and took about an hour to complete, according to a statement by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. While the money is a welcomed inclusion for U.S. fishermen, the relief payments do little to advance the administration’s “free, fair and reciprocal trade deals.” Since 2018, for example, the U.S. has paid a 38 percent tax on average for seafood products going to China, previously Alaska’s biggest buyer. According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska seafood products were gaining market share prior to the tariffs, with exports to China reaching their highest level in 2017 at $988 million. From 2017 to 2018 the value of Alaska seafood exports to China dropped by $204 million, the largest year-on-year drop on record. By 2019, Alaska seafood exports to China were at their lowest level since 2010, while China saw a 91 percent increase in global seafood imports during the same time period. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to purchase increasing amounts of seafood from Russia while that country has not reciprocated since 2014 as retaliation against the U.S. and other countries for objecting to its invasion of Ukraine. Federal trade data show that through July of this year, the U.S. has purchased more than 46.3 million pounds of seafood from Russia valued at nearly $440 million, almost duty free. That’s an increase of 42.6 million pounds valued at nearly $382 million during the same time in 2019. Most of the Russian products are red king crab, snow crab, cod and sockeye salmon which are lower priced and compete directly with Alaska seafood on supermarket shelves. Another unfair deal that needs fixing is the Russian-caught/Chinese processed partnership that is growing fast. Last year, it totaled 2 million pounds in the U.S. at a cost of nearly $7 million, said economist Garrett Evridge at the McDowell Group. Most of the halibut comes in through Vancouver, British Columbia to sidestep the tariff between the U.S. and China. “It’s an amount of volume that is trending higher, and for a relatively low volume fishery and markets like the halibut market in the US, 2 million pounds is pretty material,” Evridge said. “So that’s another thing that we struggle with as we look at Alaska produced Pacific halibut. It’s just another factor that is making that competition pretty difficult.” Fish board backup The COVID-19 virus has forced the delay of fisheries meetings planned for this winter in Cordova and Ketchikan until sometime next spring. Six of the seven Board of Fisheries members voted for the delay during a special teleconference on Sept. 16 and agreed to set a schedule at a mid-October work session. New appointee McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks was missing from the teleconference. The BOF regulates the management of Alaska’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries in waters out to three miles and focuses on specific regions in three-year cycles. The heavily attended meetings, which can last a few days or weeks, were scheduled in December for Prince William Sound fisheries and January at Ketchikan for the Southeast region. Meetings on hatcheries and statewide shellfish also were scheduled in February and March. A BOF survey this summer drew 234 responses and showed that only about 20 percent favored in-person meetings; many opted for a delay, and a majority suggested trying to do at least some of the meetings virtually. At the Oct. 15-16 online work session the board will discuss holding the PWS and Southeast meetings in March, April or May of 2021, depending on the status of the pandemic, and whether or not to consider some management proposals out of cycle. Also on the agenda is the status of board nominees who have not been confirmed. Chew on this! Jerky made from Alaska pollock attracted the attention of big backers beginning at a buffet table at Fish 2.0, an annual global gathering of innovators and investors hosted by Stanford University to grow the sustainable seafood sector. “It was literally the first major set of about 200 samples that we’d ever made of the product. And the samples disappeared in a matter of minutes. It was a pretty amazing moment,” said Nick Mendoza, co-founder and CEO of Neptune, a former marine scientist turned jerky maker near Seattle. “There were oysters on the half shell and platters of cheese and all this delicious food and the jerky was gone before anything else was really touched. That was kind of the beginning of everything and put some wind in our sails to keep going forward.” The small company started out in 2018 with west coast rockfish and has since spawned a partnership with American Seafoods Company and industry trade powerhouse, Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP. “What really sold us on the story of wild Alaska Pollock is what an amazing, regenerative and abundant food source it is that operates sustainably at a large scale,” Mendoza said. “American Seafoods and GAPP teams brought the data to the table in approaching us about it and I was definitely on board, both because it’s a delicious, high quality product and it’s also a great story that I think resonates with people.” “The most important element in any product launch is to meet consumers where they are,” said Craig Morris, CEO for GAPP. “Neptune’s wild Alaska pollock jerky does just that in two ways: first, by tapping into the incredibly popular high-protein snacking category and second, by delivering the delicious product using e-commerce, thereby quite literally meeting buyers where they are: online.” Mendoza added that Neptune wants to become the “flagship brand for sustainable seafood snacks.” “I think it’s inspiring, both as a founder in this space, but also as someone who cares about the future of seafood in our oceans,” he said. “Not only is seafood consumption in general on the rise, but this awareness is a sort of renaissance in making sure that it is coming from a good source, and understanding what your purchases are actually supporting when you’re buying fish.” The Neptune jerky comes in four flavors and has great reviews on Amazon. Most say it’s not fishy and the texture is similar to beef products. It’s also available online and at 70 retail outlets. Use the code NEPTUNEJERKY20 for a 20 percent discount. Fish Debate is on! The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce the confirmation of the Alaska US Senator candidate debate between Senator Dan Sullivan and Dr. Al Gross, it said in a Friday release. The fisheries themed debate will occur on Oct. 10 at 5:00 p.m. In an atypical manner, the debate will take place over Zoom and be live streamed to www.KodiakChamber.com, www.ComFishAK.com, and both the Kodiak Chamber and ComFish Alaska Facebook and YouTube channels, as well as statewide public radio stations. The moderator will be Rhonda McBride. Send topics or questions to [email protected] ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Boards of Fisheries, Game contemplate challenges of meeting season

In a fall littered with elections and other political fencing matches, two other political bodies are debating whether to meet at all or just punt until next year: the boards of Fisheries and Game. The boards, particularly the Board of Fisheries, host regulatory meetings every winter that bring stakeholders from all over the state together. Those are problem during the coronavirus pandemic, and the boards aren’t quite sure what to do about it. The Board of Fisheries, for one, is hoping that the situation will be better by the middle of next spring, when it’s still tentatively scheduling its meetings for the Prince William Sound, Southeast/Yakutat, and statewide shellfish meetings. While other governmental bodies have transitioned to meeting on Zoom and taking public comment via phone, the Board of Fisheries process doesn’t fit well into that model. For one, the stakeholders are spread all over the state, where internet connectivity isn’t always reliable or fast enough to cope with video meetings. For another, the board depends on public participation. Throughout the meeting, the board members gather comments from the public in attendance. During breaks, the public also regularly works directly with board members off the record on revisions to proposals or new language. These meetings all happen during the winter, indoors, and depending on the meeting, more than a hundred people may be gathered in a relatively small space for hours. Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight told the board during a work session on Sept. 16 that when the staff surveyed the public about what to do, the results were mixed, but most people who attended meetings in the past were not in favor of virtual meetings. The board talked about potentially limiting attendance at an in-person meeting instead, but then staff would be faced with how to decide who got to come. On top of all that, many people who responded said they were fairly concerned about catching the COVID-19 virus as well, Haight said. “These are the middle of the winter, people in close proximity, frequent contacts with all of these participants day in, day out,” he said. “You as board members are speaking with almost everyone in the room … it’s this very organic and human interaction. It’s inconceivable, for those of us who have been to a board meeting, to get through a board meeting where no one gets sick.” The board members were divided on personal feelings but voted unanimously to pass a set of recommendations about how to scheduling meetings this winter. For now, they’ll be holding the Oct. 15-16 meeting via videoconference, at which time they’ll decide what to do about the remaining meetings in the 2020-21 meeting cycle, which are scheduled to start with the Prince William Sound meeting in Cordova on Dec. 11-17. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said the department had considered the risk to the community of Cordova in brining staff, board members, and other attendees to the community in the middle of a pandemic, especially with the limited health care resources in the small community. At the same time, though, he said it would be difficult for the department to push the meetings off entirely until next year. That would mean that the department would have to double up on meetings with those already scheduled for the next cycle, and that may not be possible with the existing budget. The board generally agreed with that assessment and generally didn’t like the idea of virtual meetings to replace full board meetings. Board member Gerard Godfrey said the quality of participation would not be the same. “Ideally, we should move forward in person if it’s possible and practical and feasible, because I think there are going to be too many essential factors lost in a virtual meeting,” he said. The board members passed a recommendation for staff to bring back recommendations for options regarding the later meetings at the October work sessions as well. Public comments were divided, with some urging the board to take up virtual meetings. The Board of Fisheries doesn’t currently have any way to telephonically or remotely participate other than submitting written comments ahead of time; neither does the Board of Game. Multiple commenters pointed out that even in a normal year, traveling to attend and participate in the meetings can be very expensive, and after a summer with a blighted economy, this year might not be possible at all. But, on the other hand, other commenters — including major fishing organizations like the Southeast Alaska Seiners, Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska — agreed with Haight and Fish and Game staff that a virtual meeting just wouldn’t work. Tina Fairbanks, the executive director of the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, said in a letter that holding the full meetings virtually could exacerbate existing inequities. “Taking the process to an online format is likely to create even greater barriers to participation,” she said. “The individuals and communities likely to already be affected by barriers to participation are also likely to be disproportionately disadvantaged compared to more centrally-located, technologically advanced groups and individuals. Those that are most well versed in the board process and/or more well-connected to decision-makers will have even greater access, likely greater time, and thus greater influence on the process by the simple fact that so many others will be unable to participate in the process.” Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, wrote in a letter to the board that she didn’t support hold the October work session either online or in person, as both have “insurmountable challenges.” She asked the board to postpone all meetings to see how the pandemic develops in the state. The board is scheduled to meet virtually on Oct. 15-16 for a worksession dealing with agenda change requests, non-regulatory proposals, and escapement goal reports from Fish and Game staff. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: After surveys canceled by COVID-19, crabbers await catch limits

Bering Sea crabbers will soon know how much they can pull up in their pots for the upcoming season that opens Oct. 15. This week the Crab Plan Team, advisers to state and federal fishery managers who jointly manage the fisheries, will review stock assessments and other science used to set the catches for Bristol Bay red king crab, Tanners and snow crab. Normally, the biggest driver would be data from the annual summer trawl surveys that have tracked the stocks for decades. But this year, the surveys were called off due to the COVID-19 virus and that has crabbers worried. “There are certainly some added uncertainties,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents harvesters. Goen said the fleet is anticipating an opener for red king crab, likely less than the 3.8 million pounds taken last season. “Our preliminary indication is that there is possibly going to be a small red king crab fishery. However, we’ve heard from scientists in the past that there has not been good recruitment into that fishery for over a decade,” Goen said. On the brighter side, the snow crab stock has been on a steady upward tick. “We’ve been seeing a lot of recruitment of young crab into this fishery, so even without a survey I think the outlook is good. It’s hard to say, though, given the lack of a survey whether the TAC (total allowable catch) would end up being about the same as last year, which was 34 million pounds, or if it would go up or down,” she added. Bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s larger cousin, also could be in play after a two-year closure. That fishery produced 2.4 million pounds in 2018, and nearly 20 million pounds prior to that. The volatility of the crab stocks and the missing updates from the canceled surveys has the fleet fearing it will result in extra, unnecessary fishing restrictions. “We’re concerned that without a survey, managers will be adding extra buffers for uncertainty which would further reduce our TAC,” Goen said. “We’re already a heavily buffered fishery because of the variability in our stocks. We don’t even come close to approaching our existing buffers, so we don’t think more need to be added.” The total 2019-20 Bering Sea crab catch was 44.4 million pounds for a value of $199.2 million, according to NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Goen had high praise for the collaborative research being done by the industry and scientists to improve understanding and management of the crab stocks through the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation. The Crab Plan Team meetings ran from Sept. 14-17. The agenda and documents are on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council website. More crab One of Alaska’s most stable fisheries, golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands, has been underway since August and will produce more than 6 million pounds. In waters closer to home, Dungeness crab fisheries at Southeast and Kodiak are producing some of the best catches in decades. At the Panhandle, a fleet of 192 permit holders hauled up nearly 6 million pounds of Dungies during a summer fishery that ran from June through Aug. 15 and will reopen on October 1. Managers base the seasonal catch on the first week’s performance, which produced a quick 1.4 million pounds, compared to 772,000 in the first week last summer. “We did pretty good right off the bat,” said Adam Messmer, regional shellfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. At an average price to fishermen of $1.67 per pound (down from $3.01 last year), the summer fishery was valued at nearly $10 million at the Southeast docks. The Dungies were big and full, Messmer added, referring to fewer soft-shelled crabs that are in the molting process and can’t be sold. The region’s lousy salmon season could mean more boats will be out on the water when the Dungeness fishery reopens in a few weeks, he added. Messmer advised that with the closure of the ADFG office in Wrangell where many crabbers reside, they need to register at the Petersburg office. “They should get on top of that sooner rather than later because not having that Wrangell office is a new thing we’re dealing with,” Messmer said. And more crab Kodiak crabbers are having their best Dungeness fishery in 30 years, with the catch since May at nearly 2 million pounds taken by 25 vessels and five good weeks of fishing left to go. “And we’re seeing similar good production through the Alaska Peninsula and Sand Point area where they are at 810,000 pounds so far. That’s more than in any recent season,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager for ADFG at Kodiak. The higher catches are due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, and Nichols added that the current Dungie cohort could be the tail end of a peak. “We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and Kodiak Dungeness crab are very cyclical. In the past these harvest peaks have lasted three years or so and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through,” Nichols explained, adding that there does not appear to be many small Dungeness crab coming up behind the current crop. What is coming up are lots of Tanner crabs. Nichols, fresh off the summer survey vessel, said the largest group of tiny Tanners they have ever seen “is still out there” and the crabs appear to be growing fast. Biologists have been tracking the new pulse of Kodiak Tanners since 2018 and next year’s survey could see a significant portion of them reaching legal size, he said. Only legal-sized male crabs can be retained for sale. Meanwhile, local crabbers might not see the expected slump between the 2013 year class of Tanners they’ve been tapping on and the arrival of the 2018 cohort. “At first glance it looks like we’ve met the minimum threshold of 100,000 pounds in each of three different sections so having a fishery in January is a possibility,” Nichols said. “I would not have predicted that a year ago.” On a related note: Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because the species was named after its discoverer, Lieutenant Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross that explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Clean up! The third Saturday of September is International Coastal Cleanup Day, started in 1986 by the Ocean Conservancy. Since then, millions of volunteers have collected and categorized over 300 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways worldwide. For the 2019 pickup, more than 940,000 volunteers in 116 countries collected nearly 32.5 million pieces of trash of which a record 4.7 million were food wrappers for candy, chips, etc. They also picked up 4.2 million cigarette butts, 1.8 million plastic bottles, 1.5 million plastic bottle caps, and more than 940,000 straws and drink stirrers. Last year was the first time food wrappers beat cigarette butts as the most collected item. Nick Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, said over 35 years the cleanup has revealed the switch to single-use plastics and its detrimental impact on ocean pollution. In the early days, Mallos said glass bottles, metal caps, and paper bags were most prevalent in the list of top collected items. By 2017 the entire top 10 list included all plastic items (cigarette butts count as plastic trash because the filters are made of plastic fibers) and it has remained that way ever since. Mallos called the issue of single-use plastics, especially food wrappers, both a design and a recycling problem that highlights the need for different types of packaging and better waste management. “Cleanup efforts are only a band-aid, not a complete solution,” he told Fast Company magazine, which focuses on innovation in technology and “world changing ideas.” “With food wrappers taking over the No. 1 pollution spot, it really underscores the unsustainable production of single-use disposable foods and beverage packaging that’s not recycled or nonrecyclable in most cases, as well as the gross inadequacies to responsibly manage this plastic waste in almost all communities around the world,” Mallos said. “We need to solve this problem upstream so that plastics never enter our waterways and never reach the beaches in the first place.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

USDA announces tariff relief for seafood harvesters

Harvesters in more than a dozen commercial fisheries across Alaska that have been hit in the pocketbook by foreign tariffs on American seafood are eligible for part of $530 million in federal aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA announced Sept. 9 that the money is meant to offset weaker market conditions for American seafood brought on by import tariffs. A statement announcing the availability of the funds, which will be dispersed through the USDA’s new Seafood Trade Relief Program, says generally that the aid is meant to help commercial fishermen “impacted by retaliatory tariffs from foreign governments,” but it is understood to be a direct response to tariffs from China. “Many nations have not played by the rules for a long time, and President Trump is the first president to stand up to them and send a clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices. The Seafood Trade Relief Program ensures fishermen ” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a prepared statement. The money will be available to commercial fishermen that participated in fisheries that, by species, suffered more than $5 million in retaliatory trade damages, according to program documents provided by the USDA. The Alaska fisheries include: Atka mackerel Dungeness, king, and Tanner crab Geoduck Herring Pacific cod Pollock Black cod (sablefish) Salmon Sole   The aid is capped at $250,000 per person. Fishermen can apply for the aid from Sept. 14 to Dec. 14 through local USDA Service Centers. Eligible fishermen will receive funds on a per pound basis according to USDA calculations that attempt to determine to what level the price of a given species was impacted by the tariffs. Atka mackerel fishermen, for example, can receive 10 cents per pound, while harvesters of the more valuable geoduck clam can receive 76 cents per pound — the highest payment amount among the qualifying species. The funds will come from the Commodity Credit Corp. that is administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. China has placed tariffs of varying levels — some up to 40 percent — on American seafood imports following import tariffs levied on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods, starting in 2018. With an annual value of roughly $2.5 billion, seafood is far and away Alaska’s top export and accounts for about half of the value of all the products and commodities shipped out of the state, according to figures from the Alaska Office of International Trade. Additionally, China is the state’s largest trading partner. The country has purchased about $1.2 billion worth of Alaska goods — about one-quarter of all the state’s exports — in recent years. Many in the state’s fishing industry initially feared the Trump administration’s tariffs on seafood imported from China would doubly hit Alaska-harvested fish and shellfish, as much of the state’s catch is sent across the Pacific for processing in China before returning to the U.S. as a finished retail product. However, administration officials exempted domestically sourced seafood products that are eventually imported from China from the tariffs in July 2018 after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials discussed the issue with those in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said she got a call “bright and early” Sept. 9 from White House food and agriculture officials about a subsequent briefing that included the president’s advisors for a program that would benefit Alaska’s commercial fishermen. Leach emphasized that Sen. Dan Sullivan was “very instrumental” in getting the aid for fishermen across the country. She noted harvesters of other food commodities — many of the nation’s farmers — previously received federal aid to offset the impacts by China’s tariffs. The Seafood Trade Relief Program simply provides similar help to the country’s seafood harvesters. “Sen. Sullivan just kept pushing and pushing to say, ‘commercial fishermen were impacted by this, too.’” Leach described. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is pleased the administration has recognized the importance of a healthy seafood industry after more than two years of retaliatory tariffs from China and also thanked Sullivan for his “relentless efforts to educate the administration” on the issue. Sullivan serves on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the subcommittees covering fisheries and trade. He has regularly called out the trade practices of the Chinese government but has also been critical at times of the Trump administration’s often blunt approach to the issue. Staff in Sullivan’s office said that while the aid does not solve the more country’s fundamental trade issues with China, the Chinese government has long violated international trade rules. Sullivan said in a formal statement that he raised the issue of tariff relief for Alaska fishermen in discussions with numerous administration officials, including Trump, Perdue and Vice President Mike Pence. “I am very appreciative that the White House and the Department of Agriculture listened to the fishermen in Alaska and across the country, and are offering substantial, historic financial assistance to these hard-working individuals,” he said. “As I often say, Alaska is the superpower of seafood for our nation, and our fishermen are America’s ultimate small business.” Leach reminded fishermen who apply for the aid that it is not meant for fishermen who had their business impacted by the pandemic; there are other aid programs for that. “This is specific and only for tariff relief,” she said. Alaska’s large commercial halibut fishery was left off the list of eligible fisheries because halibut is mostly sold domestically, particularly to restaurants, according to Leach. However, she questioned why the sea cucumber fishery was left off as well. “Sea cucumber divers were one of the first (groups) impacted by Chinese tariffs and lost a lot of money,” Leach said. The money is only available to harvesters; processors are not eligible, Leach clarified as well. Still, she encouraged Alaskan fishermen to apply for the aid as quickly as possible, given the $530 million will eventually be spread nationwide. “It’s half-a-billion dollars, however, when you’re looking to help fishermen across the country those dollars start to dwindle very fast,” Leach said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Bizarre salmon season winds down short of state projections

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct that 21.2 million pinks had been caught in Kodiak in the 2020 season. On top all the other effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a strange year for Alaska’s commercial salmon fisheries. As the fisheries are winding down, the total landings are about 17 percent behind the projections statewide. The Copper River sockeye run was a flop, as was the chum run statewide, and the silver salmon harvest was down everywhere except Kodiak and Bristol Bay. Prices were down, too, and processors had the extra expense and responsibility of keeping workers healthy in remote communities at close quarters. Copper River’s early season sockeye openers seemed to bode ill for the state. After just a few paltry catches, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the fishery, hoping to boost escapement. The reds just never showed up. The sonar at Miles Lake stopped counting July 28 and met the minimum escapement, but without a commercial fishery. Sockeye runs started similarly slowly in Upper Cook Inlet, and stalled out when poor king salmon returns led to a complete closure for East Side setnets and restrictions for drift gillnets in mid-July. Bristol Bay largely shrugged off the poor news of the early season, though, and delivered close to the same number of landings as last year: just 9 percent fewer, with about 39.2 million sockeye landed. On top of that harvest, the Egegik, Ugashik, and Naknek-Kvichak districts exceeded their sockeye escapement goals. The Naknek River blew its goal away; more than 4.1 million sockeye passed that river before July 21, the highest escapement on record, according to ADFG. Bristol Bay is the heavyweight in the wild sockeye salmon world; more than three quarters of the sockeye harvested in the state come from there. So the prices posted there for the beginning of the season are usually an indicator for what the value of the harvest is going to be. Usually. “What we’ve seen when it comes to salmon prices is a general decline across the state and across all species,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist specializing in fisheries with the McDowell Group. “Because Bristol Bay is such a high value fishery, a lot of attention is paid to the base price that is posted there, and that was down about 50 percent from last year. There’s a lot of reasons for that.” One of those reasons is because of all the costs processors had to swallow related to the pandemic. Bringing in workers, quarantining them, testing them regularly, and providing protective equipment is expensive. But on top of that, the Bristol Bay sockeye hit in a big pulse rather than being spanned out. Because of capacity, the processors generally moved toward head-and-gutting rather than more added-value products, like filleting and roe, Evridge said. While Alaska fish are entering a more favorable market because the retail sector is recovering and some other stocks haven’t been producing, like Russian farmed fish, prices are generally lower for farmed fish, which may harm the retail prices for Alaska fish, he said. There’s also the economic pressure on consumers to consider. Overall, it paints a picture of uncertainty for Alaska seafood. “2020 is an unusual year, and the early indicators are one of a decline in value, but we’re really going to have to wait and see how it all shakes out in terms of price adjustments made throughout this winter,” he said. “We will have a better handle on what the final price is in the spring of next year.” The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association noted strong retail sales in a press release Sept. 8, praising the fleet and industry for its pandemic prevention measures “Grocery and seafood retailers took notice of this year’s harvest, with several new partners signing on for summertime promotions of fresh sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay,” the organization stated. “Eight retail chains containing over 1,200 individual stores hosted branded Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon promotions or promoted salmon from Bristol Bay online, with many seeing significant sales gains.” Kodiak also saw a significantly better season than other regions. As of Sept. 3, about 21.2 million pink salmon had been harvested, more than three times the harvest in 2018. The sockeye harvest was behind the 2019 landings, but silvers were slightly ahead, with 377,000 silvers landed. The South Alaska Peninsula is doing better than last year for pink salmon, with about 4.1 million harvested, but is still tracking behind the multi-year averages. On the other hand, Chignik experienced one of its worst seasons on record. Both the early and late sockeye runs were extremely weak, prompting closures on the commercial fishery there. Up until ADFG pulled out the weir in the Chignik River on Aug. 27, only 309,702 sockeye had been counted for the entire season, which wasn’t enough for either run to meet its escapement goal. That’s the third year in a row for the early run, and ADFG doesn’t project that any remaining fish will help the late run meet its escapement goal. The chum run made its escapement in the Chignik Management Area made its escapement, but the pink run did not. Two years ago, the community received a federal disaster declaration for a similarly poor run and closure and is just now seeing funds distributed to cover that disaster. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Senate debate on for Kodiak; legislators get earful over board picks

Kodiak has again scored a first debate between candidates in one of Alaska’s most high-profile political races: the U.S. Senate. Kodiak has been hosting debates for congressional and gubernatorial hopefuls since 1999 with a single focus: Alaska’s seafood industry. The date and format for the U.S. Senate faceoff are still being finalized, but it will occur in close proximity to the annual ComFish event on Sept. 17 and 18, bumped by COVID-19 from its traditional dates in March, and now set to be a virtual experience. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan and Independent challenger Dr. Al Gross are working out the details of their participation, said Sarah Phillips, executive director at the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and ComFish organizer. Viewers can livestream the debate via Facebook, YouTube and the comfishak.com website, Williams said. Those platforms also will be used for the many educational forums that will be presented virtually and made available online long after. Phillips is certain there will be a great deal of interest in the debate and ComFish events, based on the response to a virtual five-day annual Crab Fest the Chamber successfully pulled off last month. “We actually had an audience of 44,000 tune in for Crab Fest so we got a lot more reach than we typically do,” she said. “We are very aware that we have a big audience outside of Kodiak.” Still, Phillips admits that Islanders will miss the swarm of visitors, trade show exhibitors and industry experts that normally fill the town during a normal ComFish. “We can’t deny that our local hospitality industry is very highly impacted by this,” she said. “Everything from our hotels to our B&Bs and restaurants and bars. Kodiak is a really fun place for our attendees and vendors to come to, and we are missing that significant economic driver. And our fishing industry really relies on the goods and services and information that ComFish brings.” On a related note, Pacific Marine Expo also has canceled its event planned for early December in Seattle. A virtual “Expo Online” will instead be presented by National Fisherman on Nov. 17-19. BOF earful Hundreds of Alaskans gave legislators an earful at recent hearings on controversial appointees to the Board of Fisheries, which oversees management of the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. Comments are still being accepted and had topped 500 after two virtual hearings, one on Aug. 28 convened by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and another held jointly by the House Fisheries and Resources committees on Sept. 3, where more than 100 people also called in to testify. The overwhelming majority of Alaskans expressed polite outrage at Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s selection of Abe Williams of Anchorage, director of regional affairs for the Pebble Partnership. He would be the second member to be affiliated with Pebble should he be approved by the full legislature. During the five-hour Sept. 3 hearing, only four spoke in favor of Williams’ appointment. Nearly all comments also sharply criticized the makeup of the seven-member board that would be dominated by sportfish seats, and that only one member, John Jensen of Petersburg, represents a coastal fishing region. Alaskans also finally got a chance to hear from unknown appointee McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks, a self-proclaimed hunting and sportfish guide, small plane enthusiast and an adjunct professor in “economics and recreation management” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As credentials for serving on the board, Mitchell offered her graduate thesis titled “Determinants of Anglers Willingness to Pay to Support the Recreational (Halibut) Quota Entity Program.” (Halibut is not a state managed fishery; it falls under the jurisdiction of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.) Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, revealed that Mitchell had never attended a board meeting until after she was appointed by the governor, and directly questioned her lack of qualifications and experience to serve on such a complex board. Ms. Mitchell’s verbatim response: “Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that question. I can understand that I have not really been involved in this process, you know, prior to the appointment and last winter when I, you know, the, you know, I became aware that, you know, some positions were going to be coming open and, you know, and then I decided to put my name in for a seat and, and the reason I guess I wasn’t involved before is I, I just graduated school in May of 2019. “And so I, you know, my life kind of went through a big transition over the last year and a half as I completed school and completed my pilot ratings that I’ve been working at, and, you know, during those years I was waiting tables five and six nights a week while I was in school, but, you know, it’s just and now all of a sudden I’ve graduated and I have a more stable employment. “And, um, you know, I have the credentials to support a different lifestyle as opposed to, you know, trying to be a student and pay for school and whatnot, and all of a sudden I, my life has changed in the last year and a half and has given me the opportunities to be, become involved, and that’s, I guess, what I’m trying to do. So, thank you.” A stream of commenters called Mitchell “woefully lacking in experience,” and “a glaring example of why there is no trust in the system,” and called her appointment “an insult to the process” and “criminal.” Four testified in support, each saying they believed Mitchell would provide “fresh perspectives.” Although they have not been confirmed by the Alaska Legislature, Mitchell and Williams will be voting members on upcoming Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska fish issues if the Board of Fisheries convenes its meeting cycle starting in October. According to Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, the governor could call a special session and include confirmations on the agenda, but that must be done by Dec. 15. If no special session is called, “the current appointments would be interpreted as a no vote by the Alaska Legislature and they are not eligible for reappointment during the next session,” Stutes said. It all could become a moot point. The Board of Fisheries will hold a listen-only teleconference on Sept. 16 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. to consider its 2020-21 meeting schedule due to constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A live audio stream of the teleconference will be available at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov. The board accepted public comments on the topic from July 22 through Aug. 31, and the majority voiced support for postponing the meetings as opposed to holding them online. Additional written comments may be sent through September 11 to [email protected]/ or mailed to Boards Support Section, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Opposition grows to expanding fish farming

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — President Donald Trump wants to dramatically expand aquaculture production in the United States, but a coalition of environmentalists believes his plan would be bad for the oceans, unnecessary for food security and difficult to implement. Trump’s bid to grow fish farming is designed to address the so-called “seafood deficit,” which refers to the fact that nine-tenths of the seafood Americans eat comes from overseas. The seafood trade gap with other countries approached $17 billion in 2017, according to one federal government report. The president issued an executive order in May that promised broad changes in how the U.S. regulates fish farming. It included provisions to expedite the development of offshore aquaculture in deep federal waters. That sector of the industry has yet to emerge in the U.S., where most aquaculture takes place near shore where farmers grow salmon, oysters and other popular seafood items. The Trump administration and the aquaculture industry said the order, which is being implemented now, represents common sense steps to ease the burden of rules on fish farmers. But environmental groups said it threatens to increase pollution and over-development in the ocean at a time when many consumers aren’t buying seafood. “They’re trying to somehow connect open-water aquaculture with the need for domestic food. But it just doesn’t make sense,” said Marianne Cufone, executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, one of several environmental groups that oppose the move. “Why we’re seeing it during a pandemic, I don’t know, I’m shaking my head.” The executive order gives the nation’s regional fishery management councils, which regulate fisheries, six months to recommend “actions to reduce burdens on domestic fishing.” One of the order’s stated goals is “more effective permitting related to offshore aquaculture and additional streamlining of fishery regulations,” with ”the potential to revolutionize American seafood production.” The order aims to bring seafood production to the U.S. instead of keeping the nation dependent on other countries, said Paul Doremus, deputy assistant administrator for operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. “We’re a major seafood consuming country and we could be producing more of that seafood internally,” Doremus said. “That’s the driving force behind the executive order as a whole.” Aquaculture in federal waters has support from some major fish farmers, including Cooke Aquaculture, a Canada-based seafood giant. Cooke spokesman Joel Richardson said the order shows Trump’s administration knows “the world needs more aquaculture to feed the world.” The company’s operations include salmon farms in the nearshore waters of Maine. Hallie Templeton, senior oceans campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said it’s not the right time to grow fish farming. Seafood is popular in restaurants, and the coronavirus pandemic has caused many to shutter, at least temporarily. Seafood sales to restaurants fell 90% in the early weeks of the pandemic. The industry has since seen an infusion of CARES Act money to help it recover, but continues to struggle. Templeton called offshore aquaculture “floating factory farms” and said they are more likely to cause pollution in the marine environment than provide sustainable food. A recent court ruling dealt a blow to the prospects for offshore fish farming. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a decision Aug. 3 that federal law granting NOAA authority over fisheries does not also let the agency set rules for offshore fish farms. That scuttled rules that could have regulated fish farms in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental groups heralded the court’s ruling because it likely makes it more difficult for farmers to start large offshore operations that would raise species such as tuna, salmon and seabass. “Allowing net-pen aquaculture and its environmental harms in the Gulf of Mexico is a grave threat, and the court properly held the government cannot do so without new and proper Congressional authority,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director and a lead counsel in the case. The prospect of offshore aquaculture has been contentious for years. President Barack Obama also took steps to permit deep water fish farming during his tenure. The aquaculture industry remains hopeful that Trump’s executive order can help pave the way for more fish farming, both nearshore and offshore. Paul Zajicek, executive director of the National Aquaculture Association, said the order isn’t about eliminating regulations but rather “removing barriers to aquaculture permitting” for farmers. Some fishing groups have also come out in support of the order. Scot Mackey, director of government affairs for the Garden State Seafood Association, which advocates for fishermen as well as farmers, said the order “will help the industry weather the current crisis and come back stronger.” Neville Crabbe, spokesman for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a conservation group, said the federal permitting process should be creating land-based aquaculture rather than fish farms in the ocean, let alone offshore. “It’s not clear how locating that production just further away from the coasts would help with things like diseases and parasites and other problems that plague the industry today,” he said.

FISH FACTOR: Processors shelling out tens of millions for Covid-19 precautions

Alaska seafood processors are paying tens of millions of dollars extra to cover costs from the COVID-19 pandemic, and most of it is coming out of pocket. Intrafish Media provides a first, in-depth look at how costs for providing protective gear like masks and gloves, testing thermometers, extra staff to handle sanitizing demands between work shifts, and modifying worker lines for social distancing are playing out in the nation’s seafood processing sector. At Bristol Bay, for example, where around 13,000 workers from outside Alaska come to work on fishing boats and in 13 plants of varying sizes, it’s estimated that all major processors combined likely spent $30 million to $40 million on Covid-19 related costs during the two peak fishing months of June and July this summer. Alaska processors covered extra costs for putting up employees in hotels and other 14-day quarantine sites, as required by the state. That alone added up to an estimated $3,500 per worker. Seafood companies also paid for pricey charter flights to isolate workers from passengers on commercial flights. Most medium to large processors had medical professionals onsite for the duration, at a cost of $30,000 to $60,000, Intrafish said. Workers were tested multiple times for the virus, with costs amounting to $175 per test. Intrafish cited testimony by Silver Bay Seafoods CEO Cora Campbell at a virtual U.S. Senate committee hearing on July 29. “In the past several months, Alaska seafood processors have spent tens of millions of dollars implementing proactive health and safety protocols to ensure we are minimizing risks to Alaska communities, protecting our seasonal and resident workforce, and maintaining operations,” she testified. “The industry is taking on these costs out of pocket at the same time we are facing severe disruption in key markets and multiple pre-COVID cost burdens,” Campbell told the senators. “While a fraction of these costs may be reimbursed, we face significant uncertainty because there’s no specific congressional directive to support health and safety protocol costs for critical seafood supply chains.” Covid prevention measures have not been included so far in federal relief loans and funds. It is unknown if they will be added into a stimulus relief package Congress could eventually pass when it returns in September from a month-long vacation. Symphony of Seafood expands The call is out for products for Alaska’s biggest seafood bash: the Alaska Symphony of Seafood. The annual competition, now in its 28th year, showcases a wide array of new market-ready Alaska seafood items at venues in Seattle and Juneau. Seafood lovers get to sample the goods that are privately judged in several categories. And as part of the event’s expansion plans, more opportunities have been added. “This year, we expanded the product categories to feature whitefish and salmon categories in addition to food service, retail and Beyond the Plate, which features products made from seafood byproducts,” said Riley Smith, communications director with the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony. The event also has added a special platform for Bristol Bay. “Additionally, we expanded the special awards category to include a Bristol Bay Choice which will be awarded by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association to the best sockeye salmon product. And included in that will be promotional and marketing support from the BBRSDA team,” Smith said. Partnering with the fishermen-funded and operated BBRSDA will help Symphony winners grow their promotions and marketing, Smith added. Through savvy branding and marketing strategies, the Bristol Bay model has seen its sockeye salmon sales expand to over 2,000 U.S. retail outlets in just a few years. –“Down the line we hope to create more partnerships with retailers and in- store promotions for our winners, and we’re really trying to approach this from every angle to increase the positive impact of the Symphony for companies big and small,” Smith said. One of the most unique things about the Symphony competition is that it levels the playing field between the biggest seafood producers and the smallest mom and pops. Last year, for example, Bullwhip Hot Sauce by Barnacle Foods of Juneau was a triple winner at retail, the Juneau People’s Choice and the overall Grand Prize. Big Symphony wins have led to shelf space at CostCo and other major outlets for Alaskan Leader Seafood’s cod fish and chips meal kit, as well as a pet food deal with Purina for its Cod Crunchies dog treats made from fish trimmings. “The Symphony is recognized around the world as a spearhead of product development coming out of Alaska and the annual competition is a super great place to show off your favorite recipe,” said Keith Singleton, president of Alaskan Leader’s value-added division. “It may lead to e-commerce, retail, club store or food service companies that will carry your brand to consumers.” “It’s worked amazingly well for us,” he added. “Everyone thought we were just a fishing company, but in reality, we are a ‘seafood’ company. The winnings that we’ve enjoyed have landed us in some wonderful markets around the world. So go for it!” All top winners get a free trip to the big Seafood Expo in Boston in March and entry into its national competition. This year’s lineup of new Alaska seafood products will be judged in late November and top winners will be announced at Pacific Marine Expo in early December. The Symphony then replays in Juneau in February where more winners will be announced. Smith said even if the Expo or the Symphony events are upended by the Covid-19 virus, the show will go on. “Absolutely! There will be a judging and there will be awards and promotions to retail associated with the Symphony,” he said. Find Alaska Symphony of Seafood entry forms at www.afdf.org/ Deadline to enter is Oct. 6. Grant give backs American Seafoods is accepting applications for its Alaska Community Grant Program from the following regions: Kodiak Island, Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. Since 1997, American Seafoods has granted more than $1.7 million to Alaskan groups and programs through its regional programs. “Our goal is to provide assistance and financial support to organizations that are making a real difference in the communities where we operate,” company president Inge Andreassen said in a press release. The amount available for grant awards for this round is $45,000 to fund community projects such as food security, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources, cultural activities and other pressing social needs. The majority of grant awards will range from $1,000 to $7,500 each. Find applications at www.americanseafoods.com, or contact Kum Lynch at [email protected] or by calling 206-256-2659. The deadline to submit applications is Oct. 12.The grant recipients will be announced by the company’s community advisory board on Oct. 28. Seafood savvy sought The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the state’s lone marketing arm, is seeking committee members who advise on strategic operations and selling of nearly every fish in the sea. ASMI, which is a public/private partnership between the state and industry, is guided by a wide range of stakeholders who provide market insights and strategies for outreach to more than 110 countries. “For example, we refer to one group as the species committee and they focus on issues specific to whitefish, salmon, shellfish. Their issues are all very different and they differ across Alaska, so we have representatives from those fisheries to guide us,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director. Other ASMI committees provide expertise on domestic and international marketing, communications and technical support. Deadline to apply for an operational or species committee seat is September 30.You can apply for more than one committee. Email applications to Sara Truitt ([email protected]) Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

New Corps requirements may signal end for Pebble

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the Pebble Partnership a very steep final hill to climb to reach federal approval for its mine plan with a short letter establishing strict requirements to offset the project’s impacts to area watersheds. Corps Alaska District Regulatory Chief David Hobbie wrote in a two-page letter on Monday to Pebble Permitting Vice President James Fueg that district officials have determined the copper and gold project, as proposed, would “cause unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources” resulting in significant degradation of those resources. “Therefore, the District has determined that in-kind compensatory mitigation within the Koktuli River Watershed will be required to compensate for all direct and indirect impacts caused by discharges into aquatic resources at the mine site,” Hobbie’s letter states. He wrote additionally that compensatory mitigation will also be required for direct and indirect impacts from the project’s transportation corridor that includes a port on West Cook Inlet. The stringent requirements laid out by Hobbie are in such sharp contrast to Pebble’s proposed mitigation plan and guidelines issued by the Trump administration in 2018 that both mine opponents and traditional resource development advocates reacted to as if the project is ostensibly dead. Under the requirements, Pebble must compensate for impacts to 2,825 acres of wetlands, 132 acres of open water and 129 miles of streams at the mine site, as well as 460 acres of wetlands, 231 acres of open water and 55 miles of streams impacted by the port and 82-mile access road. The company also must submit the new mitigation plan within 90 days. The Koktuli River drains approximately 290,000 acres and contains more than 36,000 acres of wetlands in its headwaters, according to the final environmental impact statement for the project. Sen. Dan Sullivan, an emphatic critic of the Obama administration’s attempt to preemptively “veto” the mine in 2014 via the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority, said in a prepared statement that he has always advocated for a “science-based review” of Pebble “that does not trade one resource for another,” and that is what has happened. The Army Corps of Engineers administers Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permits nationwide but the EPA has final say over whether a wetlands fill permit is issued. “I have been clear that given the important aquatic system and world-class fishery resource at stake, Pebble, like all resource development projects in Alaska, has to pass a high bar — a bar that the Trump administration has determined Pebble has not met,” Sullivan said. “I support this conclusion — based on the best available science and a rigorous, fair process — that a federal permit cannot be issued.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she supports the decision and agrees that “a permit should not be issued.” “After years of extensive process and scientific study, federal officials have determined the Pebble project, as proposed, does not meet the high bar for large-scale development in Bristol Bay,” she said. Sullivan’s challenger in the November election, independent Senate candidate Al Gross opposes the Pebble project. Corps officials released the final Pebble EIS July 24. A record of decision on the EIS and Pebble’s Clean Water Act wetlands fill permit could be issued 30 days after the EIS was published in the Federal Register. The voluminous final EIS generally maintained the conclusions in the draft EIS and states there would be “no measurable change” in the numbers of salmon returning to the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers or in the long-term health of the commercial fisheries in the region. The Koktuli River is in the upper reaches of the Nushugak watershed. Murkowski and Sullivan previously expressed concern that the Corps’ EIS did not sufficiently analyze the full range of potential impacts of the mine, particularly following highly critical comments from federal and state resource agencies about the scope of the review. Bristol Bay Native Corp. CEO Jason Metrokin said in an interview that while the mitigation requirements aren’t an official death knell for the project, he was happy to learn that, from his perspective, the Army Corps has finally concluded what the BBNC, and a majority of Alaskans have; that Pebble’s plan is insufficient. “They can’t produce a quality mitigation plan in three months if they haven’t been able to do so for years,” Metrokin said, noting Pebble has not backed up the claim that its smaller 20-year mine plan is economic. BBNC has long opposed the project and has refused to allow Pebble access to its land for development. Pebble CEO Tom Collier downplayed the significance of the requirements, saying the letter is a normal part of the permitting process and the company is well on its way to developing a mitigation plan to meet them in a prepared statement. The company has had teams totaling about 25 people in the field this summer and a large part of their work has been mapping wetlands in the region over about the past month, according to Collier. Pebble’s new mitigation plan will likely focus on preserving an area multiple times larger than the aquatic areas impacted by the project, which should meet the requirements based on discussions with Corps officials, Collier said. “Anyone suggesting a different opinion — i.e. that Pebble will not be able to comply with the letter or that such compliance will significantly delay issuing a (record of decision) — must be ignorant of the extensive preparation we have undertaken in order to meet the requirements of the letter,” he said. Pebble spokesman Mike Heatwole wrote in an email to follow-up questions that Collier’s statement provides the best information the company has on the work right now and more details will be made public when they are available. Shares in Pebble’s parent company, Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., closed Monday trading on the New York Stock Exchange at 90 cents per share, down 38 percent on the day after the letter was made public. Pebble’s initial compensatory mitigation plan released in January relied on a collection of smaller — and likely less costly — mitigation efforts outside of the Koktuli watershed. The company first planned to replace culverts in the Dillingham area to restore salmon access to about nine miles of spawning and rearing habitat; improve water treatment facilities at villages near the mine site; and periodically clean debris from seven miles of beach around the Cook Inlet port site. All of that potential work is outside of the remote and undeveloped Koktuli watershed. Pebble’s permitting executive Fueg acknowledged when the draft mitigation plan was published that the lack of development in the region beyond the immediate communities made it difficult for the company to identify opportunities to restore damaged wetlands or preserve areas threatened by other development — the more traditional means of wetlands mitigation now being demanded by the Corps. A Corps Alaska District spokesman did not immediately respond to additional questions for this story. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Assistant Army Civil Works Secretary R.D. James signed a joint memo in June 2018 that updated guidance from the early 1990s as to how the agencies would handle wetlands mitigation specifically in Alaska. The revised guidance states that Alaska’s situation — more than half of the state is classified as wetlands with relatively little development — means specific, focused compensatory mitigation requirements traditionally used in the Lower 48 often aren’t realistic in Alaska. When avoiding or compensating for development impacts to wetlands is not practicable, minimizing wetlands impacts will be the main means of complying with Clean Water Act requirements, according to the 2018 memo. It also explains that compensatory mitigation over larger watershed scales could be appropriate for Alaska given that options to offset wetlands losses on a more localized scale are often limited. The guidance does not lay out quantitative thresholds for determining major versus minor impacts — that is decided on a case-by-case basis — but it outlines what should be considered in making that determination, an EPA spokeswoman said at the time. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Bleak summer continues for most salmon fishermen

Unless you fished for salmon this summer at Bristol Bay, it’s been slim pickings for fishermen in other Alaska regions. Salmon returns have been so poor that communities already are claiming fishery disasters. Cordova’s City Council last week unanimously passed a resolution asking the state to declare disasters for both the 2018 Copper River sockeye and chinook salmon runs and the 2020 sockeye, chum and chinook runs at Copper River and Prince William Sound. The resolution also urges the state and federal governments to declare a “condition of economic disaster in Cordova as a result,” reported Seafood.com, adding, “The town of 2,500 is now the first of what will likely be at least one or two others to ask for a fisheries and economic disaster declaration in 2020.” The sockeye fishery at Chignik on the Alaskan Peninsula also has remained closed again this year. So few salmon have returned state managers said it is unlikely escapement goals will be achieved for the third consecutive year. “It’s looking like one of the worst years in Chignik history,” Ross Renick, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told KDLG in Dillingham. Salmon catches throughout Cook Inlet are bleak again this year with a total take barely topping 2.7 million, mostly pinks. Only 748,000 sockeyes have come out of the Inlet so far this season. Southeast Alaska communities also are being hit hard by weak returns; by Aug. 8 the total catch for the region had yet to reach 6 million salmon. For pinks, the catch was nearing 4 million out of an already low forecast of 12 million fish, one-third of the 10-year average of 35 million humpies. Also low were pink prices: a nickel a pound compares to a regionwide average of 33 cents in 2019. For chums, the Southeast catch had yet to reach 1.5 million out of a projected take of 9 million fish. Sluggish chum returns to the Yukon means summer fishing is likely over and ADFG said no commercial openers are likely for this fall. Low numbers also reduced fishing time at Norton Sound where only pinks have again shown up in strong numbers, but with no buying interest. At Kotzebue, a total harvest could come in at less than 200,000 chums for the first time since 2009. Across the state, the peak for coho salmon production is still a few weeks but catches so far are skimpy compared to past years. A total catch of 4.2 million silver salmon is projected for the season. There are a few notable mentions for Alaska’s 2020 salmon fishery. For the first time since 2015 commercial fishing occurred in the Kuskokwim region. Kodiak’s pink salmon catch has been strong and steady, nearing 9 million. Alaska sockeye catches have tracked nicely with preseason projections at more than 44 million fish so far. More than 39 million of the reds came from Bristol Bay but fishermen are not happy. A base price of 70 cents a pound is down 48 percent from last year and “has understandably created anger and confusion among fishermen,” said the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association in a statement on market conditions. In all, Alaska’s statewide, all-species salmon catch for 2020 is projected at nearly 133 million fish. 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. Buy/Sell Better! Fishermen, registered buyers and hatcheries have a new and easier way to do business online from a single location: SeafoodAuction.net. “Your existing buyers are part of this if they choose to be, and they’re the ones that are bidding. It just makes everything easier,” said Nate Berga of Kenai, the auction creator who has more than 20 years of experience in both Alaska fishing and buying. “This is somewhat like eBay in that it’s a platform for fishermen to go to advertise that I’m going fishing on this date for X amount of pounds of quota. And all the normal buyers that are around here can go to one spot to see what fishermen are going out, when, and how much. So existing companies that fishermen are used to selling to have the opportunity to bid through this platform.” The streamlined SeafoodAuction process, Berga added, is completely above board. “Fishermen often wonder if they are getting the best price and did they call the right buyers. And from the buyer’s side, no one necessarily knows what’s going on or who’s paying what. So this provides transparency in the marketplace,” he explained. The Seafood Auction also can streamline sales of hatchery cost recovery salmon, the fish sold to help fund their operations. Instead of soliciting bids from various buyers, all transactions can be done online. “Hatcheries maintain control in that they approve who can participate in the auction,” Berga said. “If there’s been anyone who they’ve had issues with, they may opt to not let somebody participate for whatever reason. It gives control to the hatchery to decide who is qualified to bid. Once that’s established, those companies can go ahead and bid in the normal auction format where the highest bidder wins.” With all of the marketing chaos cause by the Covid-19 pandemic, Berga said streamlined buying and selling by auction provides a welcome break. “Things are really uncertain right now,” he said, “and this definitely gives them an option.” Sign up for free at SeafoodAuction.net ‘All Hands’ goes online Alaska’s most popular annual seafood marketing gathering is making plans to meet online in early November instead of in person. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s annual “All Hands on Deck” event brings a huge mix of industry and interested public together to “talk fish,” but Covid-19 has corked the event for this year. “Typically, this event is held over the course of several days in Anchorage where we can all get together in the same room and have these conversations. Obviously, with travel and large meetings continuing to be uncertain for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to make a decision with our board to move to a virtual platform for 2020,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director. The All Hands meeting provides a look back at the industry’s economics and trends for the previous year, and a look ahead. ASMI, which is a public/private partnership between the state and industry, is guided by a wide range of committees that cover nearly every fish in the sea. Others provide expertise on domestic and international marketing programs, communications and technical support. Heimbigner said ASMI is researching ways to make All Hands the best event possible and input from the public in a short survey can help. The status of reliable internet for remote participants also is critical information. “What is the most important part of All Hands to you, what topics do you want to make sure we discuss and it’s really important for us to know whether the majority of participants have access to reliable internet and can access video conferences to look at presentations online, or if most of them will be calling in and might not have access to the video aspect,” she said. One benefit, Heimbigner added, is that those who have been unable to attend All Hands in the past can join in, as all meetings are open to the public. ASMI also is seeking committee members through Sept. 30. Find links at the ASMI website and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood touted in update to federal dietary guidelines

It got little attention from the mainstream media but seafood netted some historic firsts in the nation’s new dietary guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted a report in July to the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that recommends what Americans should include in their diets from 2020 to 2025, a task it has undertaken every five years since 1980. “This is by far the strongest they’ve come out for seafood in all of the U.S. dietary guidelines history, and at virtually every point in the lifecycle from babies to pregnant and lactating moms to adults. I was really amazed,” said Dr. Tom Brenna, a professor of pediatrics, chemistry and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas and at Cornell University. Along with taking a whole life approach for the first time, Brenna said the advisors also considered nutritional requirements for children younger than two years. “The general idea is that kids should be breastfed, that’s the recommendation to six months of age. And starting at six months when you’re introducing finger foods, solid foods, the recommendation is to include seafood right from the beginning,” he said. Another first: the dietary panel did a deep dive into the reams of evidence proving seafood’s nutritional benefits. “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,” Brenna explained. “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.” The new diet guidelines now need a stamp of approval by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture before they become policy. If passed as written, seafood would be required eating at, for example, women/infant/children’s, or WIC, feeding programs and school lunches. “If you read just the executive summary, the thing you would stick into the WIC program is seafood. It looks like the most important damn thing that women could be eating,” Brenna said. “Twenty-five years ago, out of an abundance of caution, people were concerned about mercury. They said we don’t know what the thresholds are for mercury or whether it’s bad for neuro-development. It turns out after decades of research that the danger was not eating too much fish, it was eating too little fish. I could probably calculate the number of IQ points we’ve lost because of this policy. We’ve got to get people eating seafood as they used to, and we’ve got to make it a priority and a federal policy.” The committee recommends eating 8 to 12 ounces of seafood weekly, particularly before, during and after pregnancy, and stresses that only 20 percent of adults and 6 percent of children meet the goal of eating seafood twice per week. “Their report is one more piece of evidence that Americans of all ages should eat seafood more frequently,” said John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute. “As part of a healthy dietary pattern, seafood offers a lifetime of benefits from brain development among babies to heart health and a healthy weight for adults. The report even notes the link between diet-related diseases — which regular seafood consumption can help prevent — and increased susceptibility to the current global pandemic.” The public has two weeks to comment to the USDA on the new guidelines and competing protein producers will be lobbying for their products. Brenna urges seafood advocates to speak up. “Frankly, I think that some of those voices seem to be missing. You have this great passion that is coming from the scientists, because we see how important it is,” Brenna said. “If the seafood industry sits by quietly, they are going to let this opportunity pass, both for the industry itself, and also for the health of all Americans. Because this is the time, the data are there, the committee has said this is important and now it has to get translated into federal policy. But it’s a political process now and so the industry has to weigh in in a big way, and we have to get our senators and representatives on board.” Deadline to comment to USDA is Aug. 13. (www.dietaryguidelines.gov) Bibs to bags Hose off those worn and torn fishing bibs and recycle them into rugged bags and other seaworthy items. A Maine fishing family needs more bib material for its Rugged Seas line that was launched at the popular east coast Fishermen’s Forum in March. Since then the bib gear has taken off. “We’ve had people send us their bibs from Canada and Rhode Island, up and down the East Coast, from Washington state. It’s been really exciting. Even at a time where things are really challenging I think people have liked the story and it’s been a good connection. It’s really taken off,” said Nikki Strout, co-owner of Rugged Seas with her husband Taylor, a lifelong lobsterman who also has fished out of Dutch Harbor since 2012. Nikki said he was inspired by all the fishery-related hoodies and t-shirts he saw there and started designing similar wear for Maine. That evolved to include upscale uses for bibs. “In the last three or four years here in Portland, there have been a lot of struggles that the fishermen have been facing and working waterfront and development issues,” she said. “So we really wanted to try to bring some more attention to the fishing industry and the lifestyle. We were trying to think of something that each fishery has that is very identifiable. And we thought of bibs and said is there a way we can repurpose them instead of throwing them away?” The Strouts also connected with well-known oilskin maker Guy Cotten who gives them remnants for Rugged Seas gear. A portion of all sales goes to local fishing groups. “It’s a hard lifestyle, the work they do and then being a family that, you know, we haven’t seen Taylor in eight weeks now,” Nikki said. “So to kind of tell a story with every bag we make is the whole goal.” The Strouts hope to get bib drop barrels in Alaska fishing towns but for now, donors can get free Rugged Seas gear to cover their shipping costs. “They can ship directly to us,” Nikki said, “and I would be very happy to send some free gear out to anybody who wants to donate their old bibs or jackets or whatever they have.” www.ruggedseas.com Weigh in on water The public can comment through Aug. 24 on whether the Pebble mine project will or will not violate existing state water quality laws. Section 401 of the Clean Water Act gives states and Native Tribes the right to protect waters within their borders. Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can authorize a permit allowing Pebble to discharge dredged or fill material into streams or wetlands, the state Department of Environmental Conservation must certify that it will not violate existing laws. If DEC does not issue a certification or a waiver, the Corps cannot issue a permit under the Clean Water Act. The deadline to comment on the state certification is Aug. 24. ([email protected]) Letters can be mailed to: DEC Commissioner Jason Brune, WDAP/401 Certification, 555 Cordova St., Anchorage, AK 99501. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

ADFG releases draft disaster funds plan for Chignik salmon, P-cod

In the middle of two ongoing disasters — the coronavirus pandemic and extremely poor salmon runs in many regions of the state — some fishermen may finally see some money to help with disasters from 2018. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is looking for comments on its draft distribution plans for relief funds connected to the Pacific cod disaster in the Gulf of Alaska and the Chignik sockeye salmon disaster, both in 2018. The comment periods for them are open until Aug. 14. Two years ago, Pacific cod fishermen were facing a dismal season, with two age classes of fish just missing. The P-cod fishery is highly valuable and high-volume in Alaska’s groundfish fisheries, accounting for about a fifth of the total groundfish catch in Alaska every year. But the increasingly warm temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska seem to be connected to declining fish survival. The survey numbers led the National Marine Fisheries Service to close the Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery entirely for the 2020 season. The Secretary of Commerce confirmed the disaster declaration in October, and in early 2020, the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, set aside $24.4 million for the disaster. Under the current draft plan, harvesters would be eligible for 40 percent of that, with 51 percent going to pot catcher vessels, 29 percent to trawlers, 4 percent to jig vessels, 8 percent to longliners, 7 percent to longline catcher-processors, and 1 percent to trawl catcher-processors. Those values were calculated based on wholesale value among the six sectors, according to the plan. With the exception of the jig sector, which would be permit-based, ADFG is proposing for distribution to be vessel-based. Payments to individual vessels would be determined in tiers, based on the average landings over three years, calculated by the best two of three years. Processors would be eligible to receive 26 percent and communities for 4 percent, with community payments pro rata based on demonstrated loss, with a threshold of at least $10,000 of landings in a community. The remaining 30 percent would be set aside for research. With the changing temperature regime in the area, there are other repercussions, like changing phytoplankton and zooplankton. “Species at the top of the marine food chain, including Pacific cod, experienced lower recruitment (reduced juvenile survival) and increased mortality was documented in fishes, birds, and mammals,” the draft plan states. Funding would be available by bid, with preference for projects that help managers understand the causes of the 2018 cod crash, such as projects focusing on understanding the effect of warming temperatures on Pacific cod ecology and dynamics, early life history studies, and more information about stock spatial structure, migration patterns, and connectivity based on new genetics or genomics. A small portion, less than 1 percent, would be set aside for ADFG to administer the grants as well. In 2018, Chignik saw its worst sockeye run to date. Less than 150 fish were harvested as the run struggled to make escapement. NMFS designated $10.3 million in relief funds for that fishery, with 55 percent set aside for harvesters. Chignik is a fairly exclusive salmon fishery, with many of the local fishermen reliant on that cash income to pay for items like heating oil and gasoline for the winter. The relief funds are calculated to cover about 75 percent of the average ex-vessel value from 2015-17. ADFG’s draft plan would split that 55 percent into two groups, with 65 percent going to vessel owners and 35 percent going to crew. The plan divides payments for vessel owners into four tiers, based on the average landings for the best two out of three years. Crew, on the other hand, would get equal payments as long as they can provide information showing they had a license in 2018 and participated as crew in 2018. Processors would be eligible for 11 percent, with an option for tender vessels, and communities would be eligible for 3 percent. The Chignik Intertribal Coalition, or CIC, would be eligible for 1 percent under a subsistence designation, which would be intended to help the group provide other sustained options for subsistence activities. “Residents of the region are heavily dependent on the sockeye salmon runs to sustain their subsistence lifestyle,” the plan states. “The CIC may need to identify specific projects or infrastructure that support subsistence activities in the region prior to receiving funds from (Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission). The funds could also be considered for direct payments to regional households to mitigate food security concerns.” Like the cod fishery, 1 percent would be set aside for ADFG administration and 30 percent of the money for Chignik would be designated for research. It’s not entirely clear what happened in 2018, as both the early and late runs failed. Projects ADFG is interested in grantees pursuing would be to help understand environmental factors and freshwater and marine production for both runs, investigate juvenile movement, growth, and habitat use in freshwater and estuaries, better salmon enumeration methods, and better understandings of the socioeconomic impacts of fishery disasters on subsistence communities like Chignik. Even as ADFG is working on the plans to distribute that funding, fishermen all over the state are struggling with ongoing disasters. Chignik is facing another extremely poor run, with restrictions this season in both the subsistence and commercial sockeye fisheries. Only 255,579 early run sockeye were counted on the Chignik River, less than even in 2018; as of Aug. 3, only 117,131 sockeye had been counted as well, less than half of the run in 2019. Prices are also a major concern for fishermen, as restaurants all over the U.S. face fluctuating restrictions and openings amid the coronavirus pandemic. With that uncertainty and the burden of the additional costs for COVID-19 mitigation this season, including quarantining crew arriving in the state and additional personal protective equipment, Alaska fishermen have felt the pinch this year. The state recently made CFEC permit holders eligible to apply for Alaska CARES Act funds, which can be applied toward eligible expenses and impacts related to the pandemic. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Bristol Bay remains lone bright spot for sockeye harvest across state

The statewide salmon harvest is ticking up as the summer goes on, but most of that is in Bristol Bay. In most of the rest of the state, the harvest has been disappointing. As of July 20, Bristol Bay fishermen had landed about 35.8 million sockeye, which is slightly more than the preseason forecast of 34.5 million. Overall, 52.6 million sockeye have returned to the bay in 2020, which is also ahead of the preseason forecast of just less than 49 million. Both are less than the 2019 numbers, when the runs significantly outperformed preseason forecasts. Most of those were harvested in the Naknek-Kvichak and Egegik districts in the eastern bay, with 12.8 million and 11.5 million sockeye harvested respectively. The Nushagak District has seen 8.6 million sockeye landed, followed by the Ugashik District with about 1.8 million. The Togiak District has landed 161,438 as of July 20, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. West side commercial area management biologist Tim Sands says one thing holding up Nushagak harvest early in the season was the king salmon escapement there. Like other rivers across the state this year, the king salmon run there was less than biologists would like to see, which limited commercial fishing opportunities. “We were very conservative here for quite a while because of Nushagak River king salmon,” he said. “We didn’t make the king salmon escapement last year, we didn’t make it again this year.” But once the king salmon run was mostly over, they were able to get down to fishing. The Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik, and Nushagak districts lined up this year for harvest, with more than 2 million of them hitting the processors the weekend of July 4. But overall, the Nushagak has felt a little strange this year, Sands said. “We’re looking at the fifth-largest harvest in the Nushagak District ever, and it just didn’t feel that way,” he said. “(It was) really frenzied, and then quiet, then frenzied, then quiet. Compared to the last three years, when it picked up and was steady for a long time, it just seemed different this year.” The prices so far aren’t likely to be what they were in the last few years, either. Early posted prices on the South Peninsula were about 60 cents per pound. Bristol Bay’s prices may change a little, but that 60-cent price point is a little more than a third of last year’s average price of $1.54 per pound. Prices are also subject to fluctuation with the openings and closings of restaurants due to concerns about the pandemic. But the bay is doing better than everywhere else in the state for sockeye. Kodiak fishermen have landed about 396,000 sockeye for one of the worst sockeye harvests in decades; Cook Inlet is up to 493,000; and the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Island is about 1.5 million. Prince William Sound landings are about 885,000, or less than half of what last year, largely due to a disappointing Copper River run that led to shutdowns early on in the season. Cook Inlet is also having a slow harvest season, with the Kenai River’s sockeye run trickling in and disappointingly few king salmon numbers forcing managers to rein in the commercial fleet. The Kenai River isn’t likely to meet its king salmon escapement goals, according to Fish and Game’s projections, which means the setnet fleet is limited to 24 hours of fishing time per week by emergency order only. If the sportfishery for kings closes entirely, the East Side setnet fleet will as well. The Kasilof River run of sockeye is performing well, with enough fish already in the river to meet escapement despite both commercial fisheries and a 24-hour personal-use dipnet fishery at the mouth of the river, and managers have been using the 600-foot fishery in the area to help control escapement. Prince William Sound is transitioning to pink salmon now and so landings are about 5.8 million of them so far, only a little behind the 2018 catch by this date. The wild run forecast for the whole of the sound is about 4.4 million, and the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. and Valdez Fisheries Development Association are each expecting about 14.6 million hatchery pinks to return. Kodiak’s pink harvest is significantly up from this time 2018, with about 554,000 of them landed, and Southeast is slightly ahead, with 477,000 landed. The pink salmon harvest pace overall is largely on par with what it was around this time in 2018, according to an update from the McDowell Group. “The peak of the statewide pink harvest is typically the last week of July or first week of August,” the update states. “According to the ADF&G harvest projection, PWS will contribute most pink production this year followed by Southeast and Kodiak.” Southeast’s salmon season has largely been disappointing except for king salmon, though that overall catch is fairly small. About 117,000 king salmon have been landed in Southeast, which is about 10 percent above last year’s catch at this time, according to the McDowell Group harvest update. The chum salmon run was forecast to be about 3.9 million from the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, about 2 million from Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association and about 1.6 million from Douglas Island Pink and Chum, Inc. By all metrics, those runs are underperforming. Southeast fishermen had landed about 705,000 chum as of July 21, according to ADFG. Some of those runs to hatcheries are fall chum, but inseason tracking from Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association shows the runs are behind. Through July 17, chum landing were about 69 percent off the five-year average, according to the McDowell Group. Kodiak is an exception, with landings ahead of last year for chum, pink, coho and kings, according to the McDowell Group. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Hearing set for board picks; seafood sales jump

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s controversial selections to the state Board of Fisheries will get a legislative hearing in early fall and the call is out for public comments. The board oversees management of the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. Appointments were made on April 1 and would normally go through a vigorous vetting process by the Alaska legislature with public input. But COVID-19 sent lawmakers home early from the last session, leaving the confirmation process in limbo. Now, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, has set the date for a hearing. “I tried to push it out as far as I thought I safely could because I know there’s a lot of guys out fishing. But I just didn’t dare push it any further than Thursday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office,” she said in a phone interview. Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, added: “I think it is appropriate to vet these appointees prior to the board meetings. I find it disturbing and I question how appointees can be a viable, countable vote when they have not been confirmed by the Legislature, and that’s the situation now.” Controversy has swirled over Dunleavy’s selection of Abe Williams of Anchorage, director of regional affairs for the Pebble mine, proposed to be built at the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay. Williams, who would replace Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, is originally from King Salmon and is a Bristol Bay fisherman. He was one of six who in 2019 sued the fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association for using part of the 1 percent tax paid by its 1,650 members to oppose the mine. The lawsuit, funded by Pebble, was dismissed by an Anchorage judge. Williams told KTUU in April that, “My job finds me in communities like Iliamna and other communities talking about the project itself and kind of what it means for the region. “Does that preclude me from being appointed or sitting on the Board of Fisheries? I don’t think so. I think it just brings in a level of diversity in my background that really helps me be better positioned to sit in a coveted spot like this, if you will.” Current board member Märit Carlson-Van Dort also was a former Pebble Partnership director as recently as 2018. Dunleavy also appointed self-claimed fishing/hunting guide McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks to replace Reed Moriskey, also of Fairbanks. Mitchell is listed as adjunct faculty in “sport and recreation business” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Management. Mitchell “has fished with several remote lodges over the years and was looking to upgrade her captains license so joined our team,” according to the website of Kodiak’s Wilderness Beach Lodge. It adds that “She goes to school in Fairbanks in the fall/winter where her and her boyfriend reside and enjoy flying their small planes into remote hunting/camping sites.” A Personal Records Request was submitted to the Governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions for information about Mitchell.        “As far as these two appointments go, the Dunleavy administration is once again either out of touch with commercial fishermen at best, or out to get us at worst,” said Lindsey Bloom, a fisherman and a campaign strategist for SalmonState. “I fished around Abe in Bristol Bay and certainly respect his skills and knowledge as a commercial fisherman. That said, his employment with Pebble makes it impossible for him to properly represent the overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay fishermen who oppose the Pebble project because of its detriment to the Bristol Bay brand and fishery. “Abe’s appointment is a colossal conflict of interest. As far as McKenzie Mitchell goes, I can’t find her resume, background or opinions anywhere online and have no idea if she can bring the listening and discernment skills that a seat on Alaska’s Board of Fisheries requires, where decisions are made that impact the livelihoods and wellbeing of Alaskans for years to come.” If the governor has his way, all fish board members but one will reside inland. “There are seven Board of Fish members and John Jensen of Petersburg will be the only coastal representation,” said Stutes. “I understand that Interior fisheries are important, but so are coastal fisheries. There should be a fair distribution of the resource representation and there isn’t. It’s just wrong.” If the legislature gets called back to Juneau to deal with budget and Covid-19 relief issues and it interferes with the Sept. 3, date Stutes said she will call a hearing there. “Bottom line is there will be a hearing prior to the first Board of Fish meeting in October. I believe it’s critical to give people an opportunity to weigh in,” she said. After the hearing, the appointee names will be forwarded to the House Resources Committee and then to the full legislature for confirmation (or not). An emergency measure due to the pandemic was implemented (HB 309) which temporarily extended the time for the legislature to meet jointly to take up the governor’s appointments prior to the next legislative session in January. If that does not occur, Stutes said the nominees will simply “go away.” Meanwhile, they will be seated as voting members during the meetings starting in October that focus on Prince William Sound, Upper Copper and Susitna Rivers and Southeast and Yakutat regions. “They are just like a regular board member and that to me is problematic. I believe they should be confirmed by the legislature. It’s a goofed up system,” Stutes said. Public comments on the Board of Fisheries appointees can be emailed to Stutes’ legislative office at [email protected] “They can start today,” Stutes said. A salmon wind Alaska salmon managers have decades of data to help them forecast and track the arrival of fish each year. Alaska Natives add to that knowledge with their centuries of salmon observations. One indicator of the size and timing of the runs is the spring bird migration, said James Nicori of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Looking at the birds and observing them, they were late. So those salmon will come in, but the high numbers will be at a later date,” he told KYUK in Bethel. Another sign, he said, is the size of mosquitos when they arrive in the spring. “This year, when the mosquitoes first came in they were bigger than last year, and the first kings that I caught were bigger than last year,” he said. The biggest indicator, Nicori added, is wind. “When there is a certain wind direction, it pushes fish in the mouth of the river,” he said. Yukon elders taught the importance of wind to Phil Mundy, longtime Director of NOAA Fisheries’ Auke Bay lab in Juneau, now retired. Cook Inlet elders said the same thing about sockeyes. “They said ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that,’” Mundy said. “We couldn’t figure out how the wind was doing what it did. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something there because the elders seemed to be right.” Mundy had studied Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2006 when he learned that wind helps trip a calcium ion switch that mixes the water and lets salmon adjust from salt to fresh water and vice versa. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen at Bristol Bay and at Cook Inlet where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume, and then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge between the fresh and the salt water,” Mundy explained. “And I never knew why they were doing that. They will pile up there if there is no wind to mix that water to make it brackish. They will pile up until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” At the Yukon River, Mundy said the wind-whipped water even tops early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. Today satellite data from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make predictions easier and more reliable. (See www.aoos.org) Seafood sales surge The pandemic stalled seafood sales at restaurants where up to 75 percent of Americans opt for fish or shellfish meals. But at supermarkets and outlets that offer online sales and pickup or delivery services, seafood has become the fastest growing category. Chicago-based Information Resources Incorporated said that year to date sales of both canned and frozen seafood were nearly 37 percent higher over the four weeks ending in mid-April and the upswing has continued. Nielsen, which has documented eating trends for over 90 years, said seafood was the fastest growing category at the end of May when purchase volumes jumped 26 percent over the prior 13 weeks. At the end of June, IRI added that seafood posted the most significant growth for 10 weeks straight, up 64 percent from a year ago. Sales of fresh seafood spiked nearly 60 percent to nearly $163 million for the week ending June 27, according to Nielsen data provided to SeafoodSource. Sales of fresh lobster increased almost 292 percent, followed by crab, (up 150.5 percent), clams (up 80.1 percent), and snapper (up 79.4 percent). Frozen seafood sales jumped more than 50 percent in May and increased by 21 percent to $1.2 billion in late June. Frozen crab had the biggest sales gain of nearly 170 percent followed by frozen scallops (up 106.6 percent), crawfish (up 100.8 percent), and mussels (89.4 percent). Canned and pouched seafood saw more modest gains of 12.2 percent but sales reached nearly $5 billion at the end of June. Thirty-two percent of households said they were “extremely or very likely” to use grocery online shopping and delivery or pick up services even if the virus subsides, especially those over 60. The upward trend at retail is likely to continue. Restaurants that had reopened are now facing restrictions again as the Coronavirus spikes in many U.S. states. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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