Cook Inlet setnet permit buyout bill stalled in Senate

Cook Inlet’s East Side setnetters are still looking for relief in the form of a permit buyback, but the bill that would allow it is stuck in the Legislature. Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, would establish a mechanism in law for setnetters on Cook Inlet’s East Side to set up a permit buyback. There’s no funding included in the bill, but the establishment of the mechanism itself would allow stakeholders to seek funding, whether it comes from the federal government, state, or private equity. Micciche introduced the bill in the 2019 session, when it received three hearings in the Senate Resources Committee. However, it does not currently have any hearings scheduled as of March 10. Micciche said he hopes to get the bill moving soon and intended to request hearings for it. “It’s certainly a high priority; it’s at the top of my list,” Micciche said. “My goal is to get it passed in this session.” The East Side setnet fishery has gradually been losing value for years. For the last few decades, user-group politics have led to the Board of Fisheries reducing the time and area allowances for setnetters on Cook Inlet’s East Side, who compete for salmon headed for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, which also host large sport and personal-use fisheries. In 2014, after the disastrously low king salmon runs in Cook Inlet, the Board of Fisheries instituted paired-use restrictions, which further reduced setnet fishing time on the East Side and based openings on the type of gear allowed for king salmon sportfishing in the Kenai River. The effect of additional time and area cuts is that some setnetters in the Kenai area now open in mid-July and close by the second week of August. However, Kenai king runs have continued to struggle, as they have across the state. Citing continuing concerns for king salmon in the Kenai River, the Board of Fisheries increased the optimum escapement goal for king salmon at its meeting in February, meaning paired restrictions may be used more often. The new paired rules restrict setnet fishing time to no more than 48 hours of fishing time per week when the sportfishery is set to no bait. If the fishery goes to no retention of fish longer than 34 inches, setnetters would be limited to no more than 36 hours of fishing per week, and if it goes to catch-and-release only, the limit would be 24 hours of fishing per week. If the sportfishery for kings closed, so would the East Side setnetters. Setnetters have long argued against the paired restrictions, saying it is not an equal burden because when they lose time, they lose opportunity, while commercial guides can still operate and make money on no bait or on catch-and-release fishing. East Side setnetters harvest kings at a higher rate than the drift gillnet commercial fishery does, in part because king salmon migrate along the shore on the way back to the river, but they primarily take sockeye salmon. As they’ve lost fishing opportunity, the value of the setnet sites and permits has gone down. In 1990, the value for Cook Inlet setnet permits reached a high of $98,514 per permit; by 2019, they were worth approximately $19,500 per permit, according to the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The decline in value has been relatively steady since the 1990s, when it climbed after large runs of salmon in the 1980s in Cook Inlet pushed the value of the catch up for commercial fishermen. Some setnetters would like to sell their permits out permanently, taking the lump sum rather than hoping the profit margin will improve. The bill would buy back up to 200 permits on Cook Inlet’s East Side, defined under a new administrative area outlined in the bill, for $260,000 each, minus the administrative costs. The site would then close permanently, ultimately reducing the fleet by about half. The goal of the bill would be to both reduce the number of nets in the water and make the remaining sites more profitable for those who choose to stay. All buybacks would be voluntary, and the program would still have to be approved by the permitholders by a vote. Micciche said there was some confusion last year and invited lawmakers to educate themselves on how the fishery and the bill work. The bill would not provide funding; it would establish the vehicle for fishermen to start researching funding, he said. Until the bill passes, they can’t approach potential funding sources. “In the meantime, they’re watching their livelihoods erode from beneath them,” he said. On Feb. 21, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, signed on as a co-sponsor, but then reversed course and removed his name about two weeks later, on March 3. Micciche said as far as he knew, Stevens still thought the buyback program was a good idea. Stevens’ office didn’t return a request for comment. At previous hearings, senators raised concerns about the proposed amount for each buyout and fishermen trying to game the system; during public comment, stakeholders objected to the bill because of the precedent of the Legislature getting involved in Cook Inlet’s messy fisheries politics, because of the closing of waters, and because of the lack of clearly identified funding in the bill. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Coronavirus ensnares global commerce, including seafood

Seafood coming from and going to China is piling up in freezer vans and cold storages indefinitely as the coronavirus continues to cause commerce chaos around the world. About 80 percent of trade of the world’s goods by volume is carried by sea and China is home to seven of the world’s 10 busiest container ports, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Virus precautions mean that many ships can’t get into Chinese ports, others are stuck at docks waiting for workers to return, and still more are idling in “floating quarantined zones,” as countries refuse to allow crews of ships that have docked at Chinese ports to leave the boat until they have been declared virus-free. China is the No. 1 trade partner for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, where ships are typically stacked with containers arriving full of goods ranging from clothing and toys to electronics. Many would normally return to China laden with Alaska seafood and other U.S. products, but operations have slowed dramatically. “Factories aren’t open and goods aren’t being made. We don’t know yet what that impact is going to be,” Peter McGraw of Northwest Seaport Alliance told KOMO news. “There have been a lot of blank sailings. That means a lot of canceled ships.” Alaska seafood exports to China of nearly $1 billion include products for their own markets, but the bulk goes there for reprocessing and shipment back to the U.S. and other countries. “If you have plants that have product coming in and no workers to fill it, you’re going to get that overflowing cold storage situation. So it’s definitely a problem on the reprocessing side. On the consumption side, if people aren’t going out to eat and going out to the market to buy seafood, that’s going to take consumption down as well. So there’s a couple different ways that it’s working against moving seafood through the supply chain,” said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and an economist who has tracked world salmon markets for more than a decade. The situation also is diverting more seafood from elsewhere into the U.S. “The big salmon farming companies are looking elsewhere to direct their products and the U.S. is the obvious choice,” he added. “So we’ve seen salmon prices on average down about 10 percent since the first of the year at the wholesale level.” As the crisis builds potentially into the spring, many major fisheries with year-round selling seasons but shorter harvests, such as Alaska salmon, begin engaging in price negotiations and set dock prices, said market expert John Sackton of “The price setting at the dock is based on packers’ and distributors’ expectations of price for the entire year, the supply and availability of what is landed, and the costs and business expectations of the harvesters,” Sackton wrote in his Winding Glass blog. “Regardless of what price is paid in May or June, packers are looking at what price they expect to get four, five or six months into the future. In normal years, this is fraught with risk … This year, the risk is off the charts, because we simply don’t know how severe, economically or socially, the disruption from this disease may get.” Alaska has worked hard to diversify its seafood markets beyond China since trade tariffs imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration cut into sales with its top customer. But the virus scare is causing disruption throughout new and more established sales regions, said Hannah Lindoff, global marketing director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We have on the ground representatives conducting marketing activities to help raise the value of Alaska seafood products. However, due to travel bans and health concerns, several chef seminars in China designed to boost knowledge of different Alaska species planned for this month have been cancelled. Additionally, events in Singapore and Italy were also cancelled. ASMI continues to prioritize the health of our overseas representatives and partners in these regions and hope for positive news,” Lindoff wrote in an email message. Air cargo operations have been affected differently, and “the cancellation of flights in and out of China has been so extensive that freight forwarders have had a very hard time finding any space at all on planes for their shipments,” according to the New York Times. U.S. shoppers could see items missing from store shelves as early as mid-April, Edward Kelly of Wells Fargo Securities told the Los Angeles Times. Big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target “could be the first to experience out-of-stock issues,” Kelly said. Of note: 80 percent of the drugs that Americans depend upon come from overseas countries, and China is the largest manufacturer. Shrimp still tops! Salmon remains as America’s second-favorite seafood, following shrimp. Third among the Top 10 is tuna, according to the list compiled by the National Fisheries Institute based on data in the 2018 Fisheries of the U.S. report. Americans ate 4.6 pounds of shrimp per capita, a record high. For salmon, 2.55 pounds was eaten along with 2.10 pounds of tuna. That’s followed by tilapia at 1.11 pounds, Alaska pollock at 0.77 pounds, pangasius at 0.63 pounds and cod at 0.62 pounds per capita. Rounding out the top 10 list was catfish at 0.56 pounds, crab at 0.52 pounds and clams at 0.32 pounds. In 2018 Americans ate slightly more seafood: 16.1 pounds, the highest per capita consumption since 2007 and a 0.1 pound increase from 2017. Push against plastics The first ever major lawsuit and a proposed new law both aim to hold companies responsible for the endless streams of plastics they continue to produce. A lawsuit was filed Feb. 23 in California State Superior Court against Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Clorox, Procter and Gamble and several other major companies for polluting waterways, coasts and oceans with millions of tons of plastics. The lawsuit was filed by the Earth Island Institute and Plastic Pollution Coalition. It claims violations of the state Consumers Legal Remedies Act, public nuisance, breach of express warranty, defective product liability, negligence and failure to warn of the harms caused by plastics to humans and animals. The complaint also claims the average person ingests nearly 5 grams of plastics each week, or the equivalent of a credit card. It also says plastics alter the chemical composition of the ocean when it breaks apart into smaller pieces and releases toxic chemicals into the water. Meanwhile, on Feb. 11, a group of congressional Democrats from New Mexico, Oregon, California and New Mexico introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. The law would, among other things, require big corporations to take responsibility for their pollution; incentivize corporations to make reusable products that can be recycled; reduce wasteful packaging; create a nationwide beverage container refund program; reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable; establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging and food-service products, while standardizing recycling and composting labeling; and reform the nation’s waste and recycling systems. The Plastics Industry Association calls the bill “misguided” saying it “is more interested in getting headlines than finding solutions.” Today, 14 percent of oil and 8 percent of gas is used to make petrochemicals, the feedstock of plastics. The International Energy Agency predicts that within 30 years, 50 percent of the growth in oil demand will be related to petrochemicals. That means we are extracting fossil fuels, not for energy but for things like plastic soda bottles that we use once. Letters of support for the legislation can be sent to Sen. Tom Udall’s office at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Commerce Dept. allocates $35M for P-cod, Chignik fisheries disasters

Fishermen affected by the 2018 Pacific cod and Chignik sockeye disasters will soon have access to about $35 million in relief funding. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross allocated about $65 million to fisheries disaster relief, about $35 million of which is for Alaska, according to a Feb. 27 announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Within Alaska, about $24.4 million will go to the Pacific cod fishery disaster and about $10.3 million to the Chignik sockeye fishery. The funding was appropriated when Congress passed the 2019 Consolidated and Supplemental Appropriations Act. Fisheries disasters can be declared under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management and Conservation Act when natural disasters or management actions significantly negatively impact stakeholders’ ability to participate in a fishery. In the case of the Pacific cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska, scientists are linking the decline in stock abundance to environmental causes; in Chignik, the salmon decline seemed to be linked to poor environmental conditions for sockeye that summer. Both disaster requests had already been granted, but the amount of funding that the fisheries would have allocated to them was yet to be determined. The National Marine Fisheries Service determines how much funding to allocate to fisheries based on commercial revenue loss information. Affected fishermen will be able to apply for funding to help with infrastructure projects, habitat restoration, state-run vessel and fishing permit buybacks, and job retraining, according to the announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Nearly two years have passed since both disasters. At the beginning of 2018, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council cut Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod total allowable catch limits by 80 percent in response to declining biomass. Then-Gov. Bill Walker requested the disaster declaration in March 2018, citing the direct impacts from loss of revenue in the fishery and indirect impacts such as reduced fuel sales and supplies. This year, the same P-cod fishermen in the Gulf of Alaska are facing a complete fishery shutdown, again due to declining biomass. The Chignik area felt the impact in summer 2018 when so few sockeye salmon showed up in the lagoon and Chignik River that commercial fishermen essentially didn’t fish all summer—they harvested an estimated 128 sockeye in 2018 compared to a five-year average of about 1.3 million, according to Walker’s November 2018 letter requesting the disaster declaration. In a rural community with little cash economy, the commercial fishery provides essential cash flow so residents can purchase items like heating fuel. “These funds help impacted fisheries recover from recent disasters and make them more resilient to future challenges,” Ross said in the NOAA release. “This allocation supports the hard-working American fishing communities suffering from impacts beyond their control.” It’s typically a significant amount of time between a fisheries disaster and the actual awarding of funds. For instance, the 2016 pink salmon disaster in the Gulf of Alaska was approved for disaster status in January 2017, but funds didn’t materialize for distribution until 2019 and are still being distributed in 2020. The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bill, S. 2346, that would streamline some of the regulations and processes for determining a fishery disaster and getting funding out to affected stakeholders. The bill was last heard in November 2019, when an amendment was requested by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The funds will be managed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Because the funding for these disasters has already been appropriated, NOAA can start working with the state agencies on distribution, said Karina Borger, communications director for Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “With NOAA’s approval today — NOAA can begin immediately working with the state-level agencies to get the funding moving to fishermen & affected communities,” she wrote in an email. Alaska’s congressional delegation released a joint statement Thursday thanking NOAA for the allocation and encouraging the agency to continue its scientific work to determine drivers of “resource fluctuations.” “Alaska’s fisheries are vital to our state, coastal communities, and families,” they said in the statement. “By restoring these losses, our federal government is following through not only on the commitment we made to Alaska’s commercial fisherman, but also to their families, processors, and coastal communities who were hit hard by these disasters. The economic impact for fisherman and their communities could have been detrimental. This economic relief will go a long way.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Dutch Harbor still No. 1 in landings; Naknek No. 2 in value

Dutch Harbor remained the top fishing port in the USA for the 22nd year in a row with 763 million pounds crossing the docks in 2018 valued at $182 million. And Naknek ranked as the nation’s second-most valuable port for fishermen with landings worth $195 million. (Naknek also ranked No. 8 for landings at 191 million pounds.) Empire-Venice, La., held the second spot for fish volume (569 million). The “Aleutians” was close behind (539 million), thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the largest processing facility in North America. Kodiak fell to fourth place with landings dropping from 530 million pounds to 391 million in 2018. Those are just a few of the gems in the annual Fisheries of the U.S. Report, described as “a yearbook of fishery statistics on commercial landings and values, recreational fishing, aquaculture production, imports and exports and per capita consumption” by Cisco Werner, chief scientist at NOAA Fisheries who gave highlights at a Feb. 21 press conference. “U.S. fishermen landed 9.4 billion pounds valued at about $5.6 billion, an increase of $150 million, or 2.8 percent from 2017. That’s on par with recent years with economic benefits both up and down depending on the seafood supply chain,” Werner added. New Bedford, Mass. claimed its 19th consecutive title of bringing in the most valuable catch at $431 million, due mostly to the sea scallop fishery. Other Alaska related highlights: Alaska provided 58 percent of U.S. wild seafood (5.4 billion pounds), more than all the other states combined. Alaska also led all states in the value of landings at $1.8 billion, 32 percent of the total U.S. value. Alaska accounted for 97 percent of U.S. salmon landings; the average Alaska price per pound for all species was 99 cents, an increase of 34 cents from 2017. The 2018 average price paid to U.S. fishermen across the board was 59 cents per pound compared to 55 cents per pound in 2017. The six highest value U.S. seafoods were lobster ($684 million), crab ($645 million), salmon ($598 million), scallops ($541 million), shrimp ($496 million) and Alaska pollock ($451 million). The value of U.S. farmed seafood totaled $1.5 billion in 2017, about 21 percent of the value of total seafood production. The top marine aquaculture species were oysters, clams and salmon. As much as 85 percent to 95 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from elsewhere. For 2018, the U.S. imported $22.4 billion worth of edible seafood and exported $5.6 billion, a $16.8 million trade deficit. Production of U.S. seaweed increased 186 percent from 2016-17 to (just) 69,053 pounds valued at $68,698. Data indicate the rapid rise in farmed seaweed production will continue. (Kelp production from Kodiak reached nearly 90,000 pounds in 2018.) Americans ate slightly more seafood – 16.1 pounds, the highest per capita consumption since 2007 and a 0.1-pound increase from 2017, but still well below the government’s recommendation to eat two seafood meals every week. Kodiak kelp goes retail Dried kelp from Kodiak is the first Alaska seaweed poised to make a splash at hundreds of retail stores across the U.S. It’s the debut product for Kodiak growers in their partnership with Blue Evolution, the California-based company that has pioneered the kelp industry in Alaska. The strips of dried ribbon and sugar kelp can be rehydrated or broken up and tossed in salads, rice or broths. The new product’s snazzy, biodegradable packaging promotes the nutritional power and purity of Alaska kelp and support for local, family owned farms. Founder and CEO Beau Perry said of all Alaska regions, Kodiak fits the bill. “Geography, currents, growing space, local stakeholder attitudes, the large fleet, logistics capacity, and we want to be accessible to processing for fresh delivery of raw material. Kodiak ended up ranking the best despite it being very remote, even by Alaska standards,” Perry said. Kodiak growers will expand from 40 acres to 100 acres this year with more in the works around the island. Perry said drying kelp is a challenge in Alaska because large volumes are landed in short periods of time and the bulk of the pack is going into a completely new market. “I would say well over 90 percent of our product is going into a blanched frozen product that you may not see on the shelves, but that we’re starting to move to high end restaurants, food service and manufacturing down in the Lower 48,” Perry said. Alaska’s fledgling kelp industry faces a lot of organizational challenges in the short term, Perry added, but he believes the possibilities are limitless. “I think Alaska can be one of the great seaweed producing regions on the planet and that it will have a transformative effect within the state,” Perry said. “That’s the vision we’re pursuing. I’m sure we won’t be alone in that, but we definitely have put ourselves in a leadership position and we want to spread that vision and build a business around it. Because if we do it right, it could be a very big deal indeed.” Find store locations or order the Alaskan dried kelp online at Blue Hatchery updates Salmon that get their start in Alaska hatcheries are intended to enhance wild runs and the program will again be featured during the Board of Fisheries final meeting next month in Anchorage. A hatchery committee was formed last year to better inform the Board on operations of the state’s 25 private, nonprofit facilities. “It’s to educate themselves about the hatchery program and if hard decisions have to be made about allocations or where fish can be released or harvested, it’s to their benefit to understand the program and the science behind it so they can make informed decisions,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. On March 6, a 12-member science panel will present to invited board members and to the hatchery committee, which will hold its meeting the following day. Reifenstuhl said most of the presentations will come from state managers on regulations and oversight and what the hatcheries produce each year. “For the coastal communities the hatchery program is a lifesaver for many of the people who fish for a living. It gives about 25 percent of the salmon harvest and that supplementation is a critical component for their business model,” he added. Critics of the hatchery program claim that too many tiny salmon are released each year and pose threats to the purity and health of wild stocks. The science panel will update research that has been underway since 2013 on pink salmon in Prince William Sound and chums in Southeast that aims to answer those questions. Reifenstuhl said the salmon study runs through 2024. “Why it takes so long is that we are looking at two full life cycles of chum salmon, which is roughly five to six years, and we’re also doing two full life cycles of pink salmon which just ended last year. Those results should be out by year’s end,” he said. Alaska’s hatcheries in 2018 contributed 34 percent of the statewide commercial salmon harvest and 30 percent of the dockside value. The hatcheries are funded by a fishermen’s tax and sales of a portion of the returning fish and receive no state dollars. You can tune in online to hear both the March 6 presentation and the hatchery committee meeting on March 7. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

‘1 percent’ rule reverts to July 31 for Peninsula setnetters

They’re not always counted numerically, but coho salmon in Upper Cook Inlet are highly sought after by sport fishermen and commercial fishermen alike — and, naturally, lead to disagreements over who gets to harvest them and when. Though the most recent Board of Fisheries meeting was largely focused on the regulations on sockeye and king salmon fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet, concerns about coho fishing pulled the strings on some of the regulations, particularly for set gillnet fishermen on the east side of Cook Inlet. In particular, changes to the one percent rule — a rule established for the commercial fisheries in the area, largely designed to minimize commercial harvest of coho salmon — could cost commercial fishermen more time in the August each season. The board approved moving the 1 percent rule date back to July 31 on a 4-3 vote, with members John Jensen of Petersburg, Fritz Johnson of Dillingham and Gerad Godfrey of Eagle River voting against the change. Coho salmon, also known as silver salmon, aren’t as numerous in Cook Inlet as sockeye or pink salmon and aren’t as high-value as kings, but they’re still a highly prized species. In the commercial fishery, they were worth about $1.02 per pound last season, a little less than half as much as sockeye. In 2019, commercial fishermen across the area harvested about 164,859 coho salmon, with a little more than half landed via the drift gillnet fleet, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual management report. Silver salmon are worth big money in the sport fisheries around the Cook Inlet basin, too, with guides marketing trips from late July through September based on silvers. When the Kenai River king salmon run closes for sportfishing at the end of July, anglers turn most of their attention to silvers. The board rejected proposals to increase the Kenai daily sport bag limit of two coho in August to three fish. Anglers are allowed to harvest three Kenai coho per day starting Sept. 1. ADFG staff in past meetings have said they consider coho salmon in Upper Cook Inlet to be fully allocated, meaning that they in order to increase harvest for one group without damaging the population, the allocation for another group would have to be reduced. However, there are a number of data gaps that made the board’s decisions on how to move coho around difficult. For one, there is no regular enumeration project on the Kenai River counting silver salmon — the last comprehensive population estimate ADFG has is from 2004. As part of an overall attempt to move more silver salmon toward in-river users, the board members passed a proposal to move the effective date of the 1 percent rule for East Side setnets back from Aug. 7 to July 31. Next season, if the setnet fleet collectively catches less than 1 percent of its total season harvest of sockeye salmon in two consecutive periods after July 31, the fishery will automatically close prior to its normal closing date of Aug. 15. “Everyone is worried about overexploiting the coho because we don’t know (enough),” said board member Israel Payton during the deliberation process in Anchorage. “ I was comfortable leaving it as it was a few years ago … I thought it was appropriate. I think the in-river users think two fish is appropriate, and the in-river users think the one percent rule should be back to the July 31 date.” The 1 percent rule went into effect after the 2014 board meeting, and the effective date moved from July 31 to Aug. 7 after the 2017 meeting. Payton, who voted against moving the date at the 2017 meeting, said he thought the board made the wrong decision at that time to move the date back to Aug. 7, especially as the board also voted against increasing the bag limit for inriver users. Setnetters objected, saying it would unfairly truncate their opportunity to harvest sockeye salmon. Sockeye runs on the Kenai have been increasingly arriving in August—in 2018, for the first time on record, more than half the run arrived after Aug. 1. The fleet also shrinks in August, as more people begin pulling nets out of the water and fewer people are fishing. The rule is evaluated based on the entire fleet, and so the one percent rule makes it a challenge for the whole fleet to keep up with the catch. Gary Hollier, a longtime East Side setnetter, told the board the fleet’s harvest of Kenai-bound coho salmon is relatively minimal. Genetics data provided by the department estimated the East Side setnet harvest of Kenai-bound coho at about 5,400 fish last year, said Pat Shields, the commercial fisheries management coordinator for Upper and Lower Cook Inlet. The total yearly Cook Inlet-wide coho harvest has declined by about 56 percent, or roughly 150,000 fish per year since 1999 compared to historical averages, according to department figures. Comparatively, the Kenai River sport coho harvest has remained roughly flat over that time. Historical data indicate the Kenai coho run is about 150,000 fish. “(The commercial coho harvest) is already minimized,” Hollier said. “There’s no reason to change this. If anything, the minimize date… was Aug. 15. That’s the minimize date.” Shields said the 1 percent rule was not used since being moved back to Aug. 7 in 2017, but other restrictions were placed on the setnet fishery in recent years because of low king and sockeye returns. It was used periodically in years when it took effect July 31, according to Shields. Kevin Delaney, a former ADFG sportfisheries biologist and consultant with the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, pointed to another proposal for the board to increase the bag limit of coho to three from the current two. In 2017, the board declined to do so, citing concerns about harvest rates, but still moved back the effective date for the 1 percent rule. Coho are worth more to the sportfishery than the commercial fishery, he said, especially with the decline in king salmon availability across Alaska. “We stand ready to present reams of economic data that would reflect and inform the board and the public on the value of coho salmon for sportfishing in Upper Cook Inlet,” Delaney said. “That value has gone up exponentially because of the low abundance of king salmon we have. We’ve seen a real decline in the abundance of king salmon … what’s that done is it’s pushed a lot of the effort toward sockeye and coho salmon.” What the new rule is likely to cost setnetters, though, is sockeye. ADFG was neutral on the proposal but had concerns about the effect on management for escapement goals, said Alyssa Frothingham, the assistant area management biologist for commercial fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet. “The department has concerns, however, with restrictions that might impair our ability to meet sockeye salmon escapement objectives in the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers,” she told the board. Board member Fritz Johnson said that variability in salmon runs could end up unfairly restricting setnetters from harvesting sockeye. “In (Bristol Bay), fish don’t arrive where they’re headed in a steady stream,” he said. “The changes that can take place from a day or a tide can be significant, and under those circumstances, there can be a lot of lost opportunity if we enact this rule too early. I don’t think it’s right that the commercial fishery take a hit on this and lose opportunity.” The board ultimately voted to pass the proposal moving the date to July 31, taking no action on other 1 percent rule proposals based on it. Commercial fishermen had proposed eliminating it entirely, while other proposals sought to expand it to 2 or 3 percent, largely based on concerns for coho salmon harvest opportunities.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI paper outlines Russia’s ambitious seafood plans

Lost in the headlines about the hits to seafood sales from the Trump Administration’s trade war with China is another international barrier with Russia that’s been going on far longer. In August 2014 Russia placed an embargo on all U.S. food products to retaliate for sanctions the U.S and other Western countries imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. The ban included Alaska seafood, which at the time accounted for more than $61 million in annual sales to Russia, primarily from pink salmon roe. But here’s the bigger hurt: For the nearly six years that the embargo has been in place, no corresponding limits have ever been imposed on Russian seafood coming into the US. At first, Alaska seafood companies and the Congressional delegation made some “tit for tat” noise about imposing a ban on Russian seafood. But in fact, the value of Russian imports has grown nearly 70 percent since 2014; and it all comes into the U.S. almost entirely duty free. A four-page white paper from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute outlines the trade imbalance further. For example, the U.S. imported $551 million of seafood from Russia in 2018, plus $50 million of pollock from China that was caught in Russia. U.S. crab comprised 84 percent of the value of Russian imports just in that one year. Through December 2019, the numbers increased again; federal trade data show that more than 80.2 million pounds of Russian seafood entered the U.S. valued at over $698 million. That included nearly 16 million pounds of red king crab valued at $293 million and 4.6 million pounds of frozen sockeye salmon worth more than $16.7 million. Alaska and Russia harvest many of the same fish and crab species, and many Russian seafood products compete in the U.S. at much lower prices. The trade report reveals how ASMI worked aggressively to build markets in Russia starting in 2006, and steady growth boosted Alaska pink salmon prices from 2010 through 2013, which benefitted fishermen and coastal communities. The trade imbalance will only get worse, the ASMI report said, as Russia aims to nearly double the value of its global seafood exports by 2024 to more than $8 billion. Huge investments are underway to increase and modernize capacity by building more than 20 new processing plants and 90 new fishing vessels by the year 2030. The plan also includes the launch of a new marketing and supply chain strategy called “The Russian Fish.” Total investments by Russia to its fishery sector between 2018 and 2025 are estimated at nearly $7 billion. Call for crew trainees The call is out for Alaskans interested in learning firsthand about commercial fishing. It’s the third year for the Crew Training Program hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. More than 213 have applied so far from all across the country and 25 deckhands and 20 skippers have participated. “It’s very exciting to see so many young people interested in entering the commercial fishing industry. You always hear about the graying of the fleet but it shows that the interest is out there. Young people just need these resources to explore and get involved,” said Tara Racine, ALFA communications and program development coordinator. ALFA received a $70,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the program and to support similar crew apprenticeships in Alaska. Additional grants came from the Edgerton Foundation, the City and Borough of Sitka, the Alaska Community Foundation. “We are hoping to share any information and lessons that we’ve compiled and learned and material we’ve created and give it to anyone else interested in doing a program like this,” Racine said. Most of the recruits have gone out on longliners and trollers and plans include expanding to seiners and gillnetters in a flexible fishing schedule. “We have short term and long term programs,” she explained. “It could be just a couple of days for people who just want an intro and that’s what the skippers have the availability and time for. We also have plenty who go out for the entire season or several weeks at a time.” The rookies are paid for their work and Racine said skippers are eager to show them the ropes. “The skippers are looking for reliable crew and are wanting to mentor the next generation of resource stewards and skilled fishermen. So not only are they training the pool of young people in our area to become deck hands, they also are ensuring the life of this industry that they love and is so important to our coastal communities,” she said. Troller Eric Jordan has mentored more than 40 young fishermen aboard the F/V I Gotta. He believes the future depends on them learning the right ways to care for the fish. “Finding crew with some experience is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole,” Jordan said. “One of the things this program provides is the taste of it. So, deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” The program’s growth will depend on more skipper participation. Applicants must be 18 or older to apply at The deadline is Feb. 28. Dungie danger Two hundred fishermen in Southeast Alaska will share a record $16.3 million payday for the Dungeness crab they hauled up from combined summer and winter fisheries, which just wrapped up last month. Crabbers fishing primarily around Petersburg and Wrangell landed 5.3 million pounds of dungies for the season, the third highest catch and at an average $3.07 per pound, the most valuable ever. Meanwhile, some grim news for dungies has surfaced that reveals impacts of increased ocean acidity on the crab. Results from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in California showed for the first time that corrosive conditions of coastal waters affected portions of the fragile, still-developing shells and legs of tiny, post-larval Dungeness crabs, leaving tell-tale features such as abnormal ridging structures and scarred surfaces. In another surprising discovery, lab studies on crabs collected in 2016 showed increased acidity caused the loss of hair-like bristles called mechanoreceptors that stick out from the shell and transmit important chemical and mechanical sensations that help the crabs navigate their environment. The research team said “this is a new aspect of crustacean sensitivity to ocean acidification that has not been previously reported.” Previously, scientists thought Dungeness crab were not vulnerable to current levels of acidity. “This is the first study that demonstrates that larval crabs are already affected by ocean acidification in the natural environment and builds on previous understanding of ocean acidification impacts on pteropods,” lead author Nina Bednarsek said in a press release. (Pteropods are tiny floating snails that are a main diet for juvenile pink salmon) Dungeness crab is the West Coast’s most valuable fishery and all states are working to develop policies and management tools to deal with effects on marine life from the off kilter ocean chemistry. Some reports have shown that even if preventive measures are taken now, the situation will still worsen in coming years before it gets better. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Board approves new dip net fishery on Susitna River

Mat-Su residents will have another opportunity to dip net salmon in their own backyard starting this summer. The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted 5-2 on Feb. 13 to approve a personal use dip net fishery on a section of the lower Susitna River for all species other than king salmon at its Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meeting in Anchorage. A proposal by the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee to establish the dip net fishery was amended by the board to better align it with the extremely popular July dip net fisheries on the Kenai Peninsula. The fishery approved by the board will be open Wednesdays and Saturdays from July 10 to July 31, which is in line with the Kenai Peninsula dip netting periods. However, those fisheries are open seven days per week under normal regulations. The Matanuska Valley AC originally pushed for opening the portion of the Susitna to dip netting Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from July 10 to Aug. 15. “The attempt was to build a fishery that was conservative and still offer a decent amount of opportunity,” said Andy Couch, a Susitna-area guide and Matanuska Valley AC member in testimony to the board. Mike Wood, a Northern District set netter who chairs the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, said in testimony that he cautiously supports the Susitna dip net fishery because “giving people the opportunity to harvest food from their backyard is very important,” despite the allocation issues and concerns that the newly conceived fishery could become popular to the point of being problematic at times, as has happened with Kenai River dip netting. “There’s a huge amount to be gained by having a new user voice on the river,” Wood said of the new Susitna fishery. Department of Fish and Game officials and others said the Susitna will largely avoid the habitat degradation issues that have arisen on the Kenai as the popularity of the dip net fishery there has grown, in part because the Susitna is a very large, glacially turbid and fast river with dramatic water-level fluctuations; the river is constantly changing. The location of the fishery also will inherently curb its popularity to some degree, as a boat is required to get there. Dip netting will be open on the Susitna in a roughly seven-mile area starting one mile downstream from Susitna Station to the upstream end of Bell Island. The area starts about 20 miles downriver from the nearest boat launch at Deshka Landing in Willow. The Susitna River dip net fishery will be the second personal use fishery in the region. A dip net fishery targeting sockeye on Fish Creek in Knik Arm is opened by the Department of Fish and Game via emergency order during years of large sockeye returns. Representatives from the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee said their group was split on the Susitna proposal, with some supporting any way to reduce pressure in the Kenai dip net fishery, which targets sockeye, and commercial fishermen opposed to it because it would add another harvest group to fisheries that are already fully allocated. Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association President David Martin said the numerous sport fisheries in the massive Susitna drainage already provide for ample harvest opportunity in the region. He also highlighted previous actions the board took at the meeting to restrict commercial drift fishing in the central portion of Cook Inlet as a means of allowing more sockeye and coho salmon to reach the Northern District of the Inlet and make it into the Susitna as rationale against opening the river to dip netting. “To put another new fishery on top of (the commercial fishing restrictions) is kind of pouring salt in the wound,” Martin said. Other supporters of the fishery testified that it is intended to target chum and pink salmon, which generally are not targeted by commercial or sport fishermen in the Inlet and are largely considered plentiful in the Susitna drainage. Board member John Wood, of Willow, suggested prohibiting retention of sockeye salmon as board members expressed continued concern for Susitna sockeye stocks and urged continued conservative management by Department of Fish and Game officials in prior discussions. He said he does not want to add additional sockeye harvest on the Susitna until weir counts improve. Earlier in the meeting the board removed a “stock of yield concern” designation from Susitna sockeye at the recommendation of the department. However, other board members and department staff noted that the “bright,” or fresh, chum salmon prevalent in the lower river can be difficult to differentiate from similarly bright sockeye, even to the experienced eye. Board member John Jensen, of Petersburg, stressed that the board needs to “be really precautionary” when it opens a new fishery, but ultimately voted in favor of it with the season amendments. Wood and Gerad Godfrey, of Eagle River, voted against the Susitna dip net fishery after the board rejected the sockeye restriction. “It’s a clean fishery with a selective harvest component,” board chair Reed Morisky of Fairbanks said, noting fish can be released quickly from a dip net. Board member Israel Payton, of Wasilla, noted that the sport catch of sockeye in the Susitna drainage is about 6,000 fish per year out of an in-river run that is in the hundreds of thousands of fish most years. “If the department is worried about abundance the fishery will close,” Payton added. The board also rejected numerous proposed changes to the Kenai dip net fishery. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Fish bills on move in Legislature; ASMI hosts young buyers

Alaska lawmakers are making fast work of several fish bills that have wide support from Alaska’s fishermen. “I was anticipating a somewhat slow start, but they’re organized and they’re diving right into these issues and taking these bills up. And so there’s lots of opportunities to participate,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. House Bill 35, which would resolve a conflict of interest issue at the state Board of Fisheries, has been moving through committee hearings in Juneau and could finally be settled after a 14-year push. “One of the reasons they’re chosen for that board is they may have a regional expertise or they may have a user group expertise. So we want them to be able to not vote, but participate and lend that expertise in deliberations to provide clarification to other board members who may not be as familiar with that region or fishery,” Leach said. Another fast moving measure (HB 85 and Senate Bill 145) aims to give boat owners a break from having to register it in person at a DMV office. It was part of a well-intentioned Derelict Vessels Act whose ill-timed roll out last year by the Department of Administration created chaos among commercial and sport boat owners who were breaking a new law they didn’t even know about. UFA supports the concept of the act, which is aimed at identifying owners of abandoned boats, “but we are really pushing for this exemption because we already register our boats through the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and they have all the details that would be going to the DMV because they’re both state managed data bases. So it’s kind of like reinventing the wheel and just causing more work,” Leach said. A bill that would allow Alaskans to transport live crab (HB 203) also is moving its way through the legislative process. Live crab is the most lucrative market and the bill has UFA’s strong backing. “As the statutes currently stand we’re not able to transport red king crab, Tanner crab and Dungeness live via ground. This bill would make it so that could happen and it would open up some new avenues, I believe,” Leach explained. UFA also strongly backs bills supporting Alaska’s mariculture industry and a sound commercial fisheries budget. Other fishery related bills in the legislative pipeline include providing product development tax credits for cod and pollock (SB 130) and a push for a personal use priority above all other users (SB 99). Another measure that is resurfacing is HB 199 which seeks to create “rehabilitation permits” to allow transfer of fish eggs or fry from waters in one locale or region to enhance habitat in waters elsewhere. Leach said UFA will solidify its positions on more fish bills at its annual meeting Feb. 25-27 in Juneau. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest fishing trade group with 35 member groups, from small skiff fisheries to the largest at-sea processors. Future fish buyers A “Next Generation” of foreign seafood buyers is set for a whirlwind visit to the working waterfront of Kodiak, the nation’s No. 3 fishing port. After touching down in Seattle, eight visitors younger than 40 from Ukraine, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Mexico will spend two full days this week in Kodiak to meet with fishery managers, tour four big processing plants and go out on a few boats. “The goal is to show them all parts of the Alaska seafood story from harvesting, processing, sustainable management, everything, said Alice Ottoson-McKeen, the international marketing specialist at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute who organized the millennial trade mission. “There’s really no better way to show off the wonders of Alaska than in person and for people to see it up close with their own eyes.” ASMI has strong relationships with buyers around the world who have long opted for Alaska seafood over other choices; this mission aims to build similar strong connections with the upcoming generation, she said. Two years ago, ASMI hosted a similar mission and brought a group of seven European seafood buyers to Dutch Harbor in February for four days. “Our goal when we bring these missions in is to showcase and impress upon people that Alaska seafood really is the things that we advertise in our taglines; it is wild, it’s natural, it’s sustainable,” she explained. Why bring all these visitors to Alaska in the middle of winter? “Alaska fisheries are open year-round, and just because it’s icy and it’s cold, that doesn’t mean that our fishermen aren’t out fishing,” Ottoson-McKeen said. “They get to really understand the hard work that goes into bringing Alaska seafood to market. I think that really reinforces that Alaska seafood is wild, and it’s totally natural. And it also allows us to showcase products that we wouldn’t necessarily get to see in the summer.” Grants give back The Alaskan Leader Foundation is accepting applications from non-profits and projects for its annual grant giveaways in Kodiak and Bristol Bay. Funding typically goes to programs such as food banks, shelters, educational and youth programs, museums and recycling efforts. Alaskan Leader Foundation was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families and was joined in 2007 by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Foundation. Deadline to apply is February 28. For an application, contact Linda Kozak at 907-539-5585 or [email protected] Fish watch Winter sees a wide array of Alaska fisheries out on the water with more to come. Cod and a big mix of whitefish kicked off the year in the Bering Sea and in many parts of the Gulf of Alaska. Alaska pollock, the world’s largest food fishery, opened on Jan. 20 in the Bering Sea with a 3 billion-pound harvest. Smaller pollock catches will come out of the Gulf (250 million pounds) and at Prince William Sound (5 million pounds). Boats are targeting black rockfish in Southeast, and at Kodiak, Chignik, the Alaska Peninsula and along the Aleutians. Lingcod also is open in Southeast. (856,000 pounds). Bering Sea crabbers are still out on the grounds pulling up snow crab. This season’s catch was boosted to nearly 34 million pounds, a 24 percent increase. A 400,000-pound Tanner crab fishery at Kodiak is going slow but fishermen are fetching more than $4 per pound. Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open in Southeast on Feb. 17. The Tanner catch usually comes in at around one million pounds; the golden crab quota of 41,000 pounds is down by about half. A Tanner crab fishery also opens on March 1 at Prince William Sound. Southeast’s shrimp trawl fishery closed on February 3 around Petersburg and Wrangell with a catch of 400,000 pounds of pinks and sidestripes. Shrimp trawling is Southeast’s longest ongoing fishery since 1915 and it will reopen again in May. And if you didn’t think Alaska salmon fishing goes on nearly year round, more than 100 Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter kings. The state Board of Fisheries is in the midst of a marathon meeting on Upper Cook Inlet fishing issues. More than 170 management proposals are on deck through Feb. 19 at the Anchorage Egan Center. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

‘Yield’ concern lifted for Susitna sockeye, but tighter rules remain

The Alaska Board of Fisheries decided that Susitna River sockeye salmon have sufficiently rebounded to remove their special status but at the same time does not want to relax potential harvest restrictions. The board voted unanimously to remove the “stock of yield concern” status from Susitna River sockeye Feb. 11 at the Upper Cook Inlet Finish Meeting in Anchorage. However, board members also stressed to Department of Fish and Game biologists that they do not want to change how the fish are managed. In fact, the seven-member board subsequently took actions aimed at increasing the volume of sockeye and coho salmon that ultimately make it back to the Susitna River. The status as a stock of yield concern was placed on Susitna River sockeye in 2008 after the salmon — largely headed to a handful of lake-fed, clear water tributaries — failed to meet the minimum sustainable escapement goal, or SEG, of 90,000 fish in the Yentna River. The Yentna is the major western tributary to the very large Susitna River. Upper Cook Inlet commercial drift fishermen have long advocated for lifting the status and associated fishing restrictions placed on them because ADFG managers eventually learned through subsequent enumeration studies that the sonar-based methods used to count sockeye on the Yentna were undercounting the fish. “It’s a gimmick and hopefully the board sets management based on data,” Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association President David Martin testified to the board. Martin also alleged the status was put on Susitna sockeye just to restrict commercial harvest. ADFG Commercial Fisheries and Sport Fish Division leaders on Jan. 27 sent a memo to board members recommending that the yield concern designation be discontinued. At the meeting, managers said the weirs — the most accurate way to count migrating fish — at Judd, Chelatna and Larson lakes showed sockeye stocks in those drainages were mostly achieving their respective minimum escapement objectives in recent years. Board member Israel Payton of Wasilla, a strong advocate for increasing returns of sockeye and coho to the Susitna, acknowledged the flawed data the designation was based on in explaining his rationale for wanting it removed. “We do not assess Susitna sockeye stocks very well,” Payton said. To that end, ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang said state budget cuts could push the department to discontinue weir counting at Larson Lake near Talkeetna and Chelatna Lake, which Lake Creek drains into the Yentna. Vincent-Lang said he’s hopeful the department will find funding partnerships to keep the weirs in operation over the coming years; but he’s also comfortable the systems will continue to meet minimum sockeye escapement goals with conservative management that will continue if the weirs are cut. “These are tough decisions,” Vincent-Lang said, adding he asked staff to look for ways to cut spending that don’t impact in-season management. The location of the Susitna drainage weirs at the outlets of headwater lakes does not allow department officials to manage the commercial fisheries targeting the sockeye in-season because the run is largely through Cook Inlet by the time enough fish have reached the weir to make management decisions based on weir-counted escapements. John Wood, a board member from Willow, said the Susitna drainage is not as productive for sockeye as other large Southcentral rivers for a host of reasons and therefore needs to be managed differently. ADFG biologists said they generally believe Susitna sockeye stocks are as productive as they can be given warming summer water temperatures and predation from invasive northern pike in area lakes among other issues. In an attempt to allow more sockeye and coho through Cook Inlet and into the Susitna the board voted 6-1 to restrict the commercial drift fleet to fishing eastern Cook Inlet near the Kenai and Kasilof rivers and farther south near Anchor Point in late July and August. The drift fishing restriction ostensibly reinstates the central Inlet “salmon corridor” measures enacted by the board in 2014 to pass more sockeye and coho to northern Cook Inlet streams. The commercial fishing restrictions were eased at the board’s 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting. Board member Gerad Godfrey of Eagle River noted the board recently changed Kodiak commercial salmon fishing management policies to allow more Cook Inlet-bound sockeye to reach the area and said it only makes sense to subsequently structure Inlet management to allow more fish headed for the northern reaches of the inlet to get there. Reviving the “salmon corridor” policy was proposed by Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission chair and northern district setnetter Mike Wood. Board member John Jensen of Petersburg cast the lone vote against. UCIDA’s Martin said the action pulls the drift fleet out of its historical fishing grounds in the middle of the Inlet and would ultimately hurt young fishermen trying to get into the industry. He predicted “another disaster” for the commercial fishery. Payton and other board members acknowledged the strain the Susitna-related decisions would put on Inlet drifters but also noted they take the vast majority of the overall harvest of Susitna sockeye and coho stocks. “I truly believe putting more fish up there (in the Susitna) will increase everyone’s yield over time,” Payton said, also stressing that the board members don’t enjoy restricting the drifters even more. “It’s important to have a thriving commercial fishery in the Northern District; it’s important to have a thriving sport fishery in the Northern District,” he said. The board also voted 4-3 to amend the preamble of the Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Management Plan to state that it is meant to “ensure adequate escapement and a harvestable surplus of salmon into the Northern District drainages.” The changes also direct the department to manage the drift fleet so “all users” have a reasonable opportunity to harvest Kenai River coho and Northern District salmon stocks. Payton, who pushed for the intent language change, said it should be a way to bring all Northern District user groups — sport, commercial set net and subsistence — together. Godfrey said it’s an admirable goal to bring users together on issues but added that he doesn’t believe the new wording changes anything substantive. Fritz Johnson, of Dillingham, similarly called the change “superfluous.” Board chair Reed Morisky said it adds clarity for managers as to how the board wants various salmon stocks allocated. Martin called the drift fleet-related actions “strictly political” and “void of science or consideration for maximum sustained yield” of inlet salmon. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Council approves tighter halibut charter rules for 2020

A tough season may be ahead for the halibut charter fleet in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska as managers look to reduce the overall catch of Pacific halibut. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed a set of recommendations for regulations on the charter fleets in areas 2C and 3A, covering Southeast and Southcentral respectively, at its meeting last week. Both include tighter restrictions than in previous years and ratchet down as the recreational catch allocation goes down. In Southeast Alaska, the recommended highest-tier catch limit ranges between 772,000 to just more than 1 million pounds and would allow for an upper size limit of longer than 80 inches and a lower limit of less than 40. If the catch limit goes down to between 658,000 and 771,000 pounds, the council’s recommendations keep the same size limits but begin closing Wednesdays, starting at the end of the season and working backward with a maximum of all Wednesdays in the season being closed. Lower than that, the council recommends a closure of a minimum of 14 Wednesdays and an annual limit of four halibut for all charter anglers, then an annual limit of three halibut, with a complete closure of Wednesdays and an annual limit of three halibut if the catch limit is set at less than 615,000 pounds. In Southcentral, the council took a similar tiered approach. The allocation levels are larger in general in Southcentral, but so is participation. Regardless of the allocation, the recommendations include an annual limit of four halibut per charter angler, closed Wednesdays, one trip per halibut charter vessel per day, and one trip per permit per day. If the allocation is between about 1.7 million and 2 million pounds, the daily bag limit would be set at two halibut, with one fish of any size and the other smaller than 26 inches, with some Tuesdays closed. At an allocation of between 1.588 million and 1.695 million pounds, the bag and size limits would be the same, but all Tuesdays would close and some Thursdays would close until the allocation is achieved. Below that, all Tuesdays would be closed with a daily bag limit of one halibut and a reverse slot limit, with an upper limit of 80 inches and a lower limit beginning at 58 inches. In particular, charter operators in Southcentral came out to comment in opposition to the recommendations. Many told the council that the additional restrictions would further reduce the viability of their fishery. “Alarms are sounding regarding the proposals regarding 3A as they will certain economic damage across our small community,” wrote Whittier City Manager Jim Hunt to the council. “The management of the halibut resource is critical and we in Whittier believe it would be much more effective to address the over/under rule for male fish and more importantly, narrow the aperture and focus on the fact that most commercial bycatch halibut are breeding females.” Many of the commenters asked the council to redirect its efforts toward reducing the bycatch in the commercial trawl fisheries in the North Pacific. The total non-directed discard mortality for area 3A came in at approximately 1.6 million pounds, according to a 2019 fisheries statistics report presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. For the entirety of Area 3, which includes Area 3B in the Western Gulf, that total comes to about 2.1 million pounds. The vast majority of that is in the commercial trawl fishery, with hook-and-line fisheries “a distant second,” according to the report. “IPHC Regulatory Area 3 remains the area where non-directed commercial discard mortality is estimated most poorly,” the report states. “Observer coverage for most fisheries is relatively low.” Many of the concerned charter captains come from Homer, where a major chunk of the economy rests on tourism. As halibut biomass has continued to decline, regulations have continued to tighten, and the institution of a catch-share plan splitting the area allocation between the commercial and recreational fishery has put pressure on the charter sector, reducing the reliability of the recreational fishing opportunity for tourists. The Homer Chamber of Commerce asked the council to take more comprehensive action to control bycatch in the commercial trawl fishery, instituting full observer coverage in the Gulf of Alaska, the same way it is in the Bering Sea fishery. “When the Longline and Charter Fleets experience further restrictions, regulations need to reflect the Trawl Fleet in the Gulf of Alaska being held to the same standardized methods and restrictions,” the organization wrote. “We believe that by instituting 100 percent observer coverage in the Gulf of Alaska, the fishery will reduce bycatch to a more sustainable level for our industry fisherman here.” The council’s recommendations go to the International Pacific Halibut Commission just in time for its meeting, which began Feb. 3 in Anchorage. The commission will set the annual catch limits for halibut in the U.S. and Canada fisheries, with reductions expected across the board due to declining available biomass for harvest. Recent surveys have shown a continuation of a long-term decline, with some potential for increases in future year classes but a short-term decline. One of the council’s main concerns is the inclusion of bycatch of fish smaller than 26 inches in the calculation of the Total Constant Exploitation Yield limit, or TCEY, which the IPHC has voted to do. The new procedure will likely increase allocation to Canada and, in combination with decreased biomass, impact Alaska halibut fisheries, according to a Dec. 31 letter from the council to the IPHC. “The Area 3A adopted TCEY was up 8 percent in 2019 from the prior year, and in 2020 the TCEY could drop by 28 percent from 2019 levels while Area 4CDE could drop 20 percent from 2019 levels if set at the reference TCEY levels,” the letter states. “Interannual changes of this magnitude, which the Council notes are very unusual for long-lived groundfish species, pose significant challenges to commercial and recreational directed users of the halibut resource.” The council asked the IPHC to consider delaying the inclusion of U26 fish bycatch in the TCEY, among other actions, to reduce the year-to-year swings. The IPHC meeting continues through Feb. 7 in Anchorage. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

UFA breaks down $1M in proposed cuts to ComFish budget

Alaska gets a good return on investment from its commercial fisheries. And surprise! Commercial fisheries expertise also sustains Alaska’s subsistence and most of the personal use fisheries. “This is probably not well-known,” said Sam Rabung, director of the commercial fisheries division for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, at a presentation last week to the House Fisheries Committee. “Data collected by our division is shared across all divisions within the department as much as possible,” he explained to lawmakers. “We also share the cost of projects and facilities with other divisions. We work as a team. So that investment also carries over to other user groups.” Rabung pointed out that the commercial fishing industry is the largest private sector employer in Alaska, putting almost 60,000 people to work annually. “It contributes about $172 million directly in taxes, fees and self-assessments to state, local and federal governments, and contributes an annual average of about $5.6 billion in economic output to the Alaska economy,” he added. Of the $172 million in taxes, 43 percent ($73 million) goes to state coffers, 30 percent ($51 million) to local governments; 23 percent ($40 million) funds salmon hatchery management, and 5 percent ($8 million) goes to the federal government. Rabung pointed out that the division’s main charge is sustaining the revenue-generating fisheries long into the future, and that takes good science. “Most of our budget is used on research, which is another word for assessment tools,” he told the committee. “We assess the stocks to see if there is a harvestable surplus. If we can’t do that work, we can’t open a fishery and say we’re managing sustainably and we revert to being more conservative. We may have less openings or lower guideline harvest levels or in some cases, we might just close the fisheries altogether. We set the bar very high as far as sustainability.” Fisheries Committee Chair Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, stressed that few state investments return as much to the state operating budget. “When the budget for ADF&G is cut, that directly affects the resulting revenue to the state by affecting the ability to fully prosecute the fisheries that might be involved in the budget reductions,” Stutes said. “My goal in this hearing was to make it clear that Alaska’s commercial fisheries do indeed pay their own way. Investments in our commercial fisheries lead directly to fishing opportunities for Alaskans, great returns to the general fund, and produce benefits in spades for our state economy. We should be looking at targeted increases to the department’s budget.” Targeted reductions The Commercial Fisheries Division operates on a nearly $67 million budget, of which $36 million comes from state general funds. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 calls for a nearly $1 million reduction. Here are targeted programs across the state at this early stage in the budget process, provided by United Fishermen of Alaska. Crab lovers in Southeast Alaska could go without if $315,600 in funding is eliminated for tracking the region’s red king crab population. “A lot of people don’t recognize that those stock assessments help evaluate if the personal use fishery can open. So without that assessment, there will be no personal use fisheries for red king crab in Southeast Alaska,” said United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach. Leach said nearly 3,700 red king crab personal use permits are issued in Southeast every year. Only two commercial king crab fisheries have occurred in 10 years. “The Commercial Fisheries Division pays for a lot more than commercial fisheries,” Leach said. “We pay for research for personal use and sports. And it’s something to be noted for sure.” Cuts also are on deck for stock assessments for Southeast urchin and sea cucumber fisheries ($19,900) which will likely reduce fishing time. “Currently dive fishermen are paying a good percentage of that assessment. And now Fish and Game is cutting their portion and looking elsewhere for the funding,” Leach said. The Wrangle ADFG office will be closed and one position will be relocated to Petersburg; the other will be eliminated to save $66,200. In the Central Region, suppression projects for pike that are eating tiny salmon in the Susitna and Yenta Rivers also are set for elimination ($47,200). “The Division of Commercial Fisheries is attempting to get Sport Fisheries to take over this project,” the UFA breakdown said. At Kodiak, management of the Frazer Lake fish pass for sockeye salmon would be reduced. ($23,200) Research on Bering Sea salmon would be cut by $299,600 and funding would instead rely on grants or the federal government. Aquaculture planning and permitting projects would be reduced and a full time biologist position lost in Juneau ($159,000) This comes at a time when mariculture of seaweeds and shellfish in Alaska is taking off and new growers are waiting up to two years to get permits in hand. Fishing for science Halibut boats are wanted to help with the annual stock surveys from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. The International Pacific Halibut Commission charters between 10 and 14 longline vessels each year to take aboard up to 30 scientists from late May through August. “The whole coast is broken up into 28 charter regions and vessels can bid on any number of those regions that they’d like to fish for us,” said Steve Keith, IPHC assistant director. “We supply the bait and the ice, they supply the vessel and crew, and we usually send out two to four of our own set line survey specialists to do the fish sampling and accounting and all the record keeping for our purposes,” adding that many of the boats and biologists participate year after year. “They love it,” Keith said. “Sometimes they’ll be in Canada, sometimes in Southeast or way out in the Aleutians. They get to see a lot of the North Pacific.” The charter is just like a regular four to five day fishing trip, Keith said, but the boats use standard techniques and protocols within a set grid of stations so that data are comparable from year to year. Our survey is one of the most extensive in the world, actually,” Keith said. “We have a time series now that goes back more than 20 years and it’s the primary index of abundance that we use as we’re doing our stock assessment each year.” “We appreciate the experience of the skippers and crews that come to us,” Keith added. “It’s, you know, the fishing community contributing to the science directly and to the management of the halibut resource.” Halibut charter vessels typically get a 10 percent share of the fish sales. Bids must be emailed to the IPHC Secretariat at [email protected] by Feb. 15. Questions? Call 206.634.1838. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon forecasts out for popular Copper River, Cook Inlet fisheries

Copper River fishermen may be facing a lean year for sockeye but a boom year for kings, while Upper Cook Inlet sockeye are forecast for another weaker run. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released the forecasts for the two regions on Jan. 28, showing a below-average runs for Upper Cook Inlet and Copper River sockeye. Both regions are of high interest: the Copper River because of its high-dollar, early-season sockeye and world-famous king salmon, and Upper Cook Inlet because of its high visibility and accessibility to fishermen of all user groups in Southcentral Alaska. Copper River The Alaska salmon season unofficially begins with the Copper River kings, and this year, there may be something to celebrate for the first time in a while. ADFG biologists are forecasting a return of 60,000 king salmon to the Copper River, about 20 percent more than the recent 10-year average, with an estimated common property harvest of 36,000 fish. The estimated commercial harvest in 2019 was 18,400 king salmon, according to ADFG. King salmon everywhere are valuable to commercial fishermen, but Copper River kings especially so because they are the first of the season; in 2018, the average ex-vessel value for kings in Prince William Sound was $12.91 per pound compared to a statewide average of $5.99 per pound, according to ADFG. By contrast, the wild sockeye forecast for the Copper River is about 1.42 million sockeye, less than the recent 10-year average of 2.1 million sockeye. Combined with expected hatchery returns, the total run forecast comes out to about 1.53 million sockeye, with a common property harvest of 970,000 fish, according to the forecast. Upper Cook Inlet Biologists are forecasting a total run of 4.3 million sockeye across the systems of Upper Cook Inlet, including the Kasilof, Kenai and Susitna rivers. That’s about 900,000 fewer fish than the estimated 2019 return of approximately 5.2 million sockeye to all systems. If the forecast proves true, the commercial harvest would come out to about 1.7 million, about 1 million fish less than the recent 20-year average harvest. The Kenai River is the dominant sockeye system in the drainage and is forecast to see a return of 2.2 million, about 1.4 million fewer than the recent 20-year average, according to the forecast. The Kasilof forecast is also less than the average, with a projected return of about 723,000 fish, while the Susitna is up: about 49 percent above the recent 10-year average, with a projected return of 571,000 sockeye. Fish Creek is also up from the average, with a projected return of about 121,000 fish. The run in 2019 was larger than in the previous handful of years, but still came in less than the forecast of about 6 million fish. This is in part because of the underperformance of either two two-ocean age classes or one three-ocean age class, either due to over-forecasting or poor marine survival, according to the forecast. Kenai and Deshka kings Things look better for the late run of Kenai River king salmon in 2020, but the early run on the Kenai and the run on the Deshka look less than rosy again. ADFG released the 2020 outlooks for the king salmon runs on the two rivers on Jan. 27, in advance of the Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting beginning Feb. 7. The Deshka River is expected to see a return of 10,570 kings; the Kenai River’s early run is estimated at 4,794 kings, less than the average but still within the escapement goal, while the Kenai late run is projected at 22,707, about 60 percent better than the estimated total 2019 run. The Deshka forecast is within the biological escapement goal of 9,000 to 18,000 fish but is less than the sustainable escapement goal of 13,000 to 28,000 fish, according to ADFG. The forecast is about 35 percent less than the recent 10-year average but greater than the estimated 2019 return of 8,466 kings. The Deshka has also seen a recent increase in jack kings — small, younger males — at the weir, which could affect production, according to a memo from Northern Cook Inlet Area Research Biologist Nick DeCovich with the Division of Sport Fish. The early run of king salmon in the Kenai River — which is demarcated from the late run at the end of June each year — has been declining for about the last decade. The estimated forecast is within the optimum escapement goal of 3,900 to 6,600 large king salmon but is less than both the five- and 10-year recent averages, according to ADFG. The late run estimate of 22,707 large fish, on the other hand, will be about on par with the recent five-year average but about half the 10-year average, according to ADFG. The late run estimate would be within its sustainable escapement goal range, if the forecast proves true next summer. The king salmon runs in Upper Cook Inlet are some of the highest-interest stocks in the region, but have declined in abundance so much in recent years that sport anglers have diverted effort to other stocks, with the anticipation that fishing will be restricted. Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet, particularly setnetters, have had to work around paired restrictions on their time and area based on projected runs to the Kenai River, intended to protect king salmon migrating close to shore. With the upcoming meeting and several proposals on the docket that would alter king salmon management in Upper Cook Inlet, ADFG managers said they would not announce preseason management measures until after the meeting, according to a press release issued Jan. 27. “ADF&G understands that anglers, guides, and local businesses are better served by preseason and timely management decisions,” said Sport Fish Cook Inlet Coordinator Matt Miller. “However, it is prudent to hold off making any preseason management decisions prior to the Board of Fisheries meeting. The board will be considering actions that could impact these fisheries.” The board meeting is scheduled to begin Feb. 7 in Anchorage. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Seafood industry facing challenges beyond harvest cuts

Amid ongoing declines of salmon returns, restrictions on harvest and collapsing groundfish stocks, Alaska seafood industry experts are concerned about something else too: the workforce. The Alaska seafood workforce, both on boats and on shore, is aging, and fewer young people are going into careers in the industry. While the graying of the fishing fleet is in part because of the high cost of entry for permits, boats, and equipment, there is also a looming shortage in processing plant workers. Jay Stinson, president of the Alaska Research Consortium, a research organization supporting fisheries and marine science in the North Pacific, told the House Fisheries Committee on Jan. 23 that about 75 percent of the state’s manufacturing workforce is in the seafood industry. However, those workplaces are changing from what they were a few decades ago, when unskilled labor dominated. “(Processors are) moving from the old slime line, which was unskilled labor, to a technical skill set requiring computer sciences, robotic operators and programmers, maintenance people, things like that,” he said. “Those skill sets are in really big demand, but there’s no place in the state to get that training.” While the University of Alaska has some courses in fisheries technology and skill sets that would be useful to processors, there is no training program that specifically focuses on those skills as related to the seafood industry. A survey of 40 plant managers from 20 different companies the Alaska Research Consortium conducted showed significant interest in more training opportunities for seafood-related careers, said Paula Cullenberg, the executive director of the Alaska Research Consortium. The survey respondents noted the need for skills like math and English proficiency, but also supervisory skills, conflict management and developing future leaders. While many employees get some level of training, some also get training in technical operations like boiler operation, wastewater management, quality control and commercial driving, Cullenberg said. Companies often bear the cost of training individuals currently, she said. “Training provides the opportunity for folks to make a career out of that industry,” she said. In addition to improving existing training opportunities and connecting seafood processing plants with their local high schools as potential internship or employment opportunities—Cullenberg told the House Fisheries Committee that fewer than half of the plants surveyed have a relationship with their local high schools, but that there is a lot of interest; the Alaska Research Consortium is proposing a Seafood Workforce Training Partnership. The partnership would exist to promote training opportunities for Alaska residents and expose high school students to careers in the industry, based out of the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. To get it started, the consortium is looking to Technical Vocational Education Program funds. The program, housed in the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, provides noncompetitive education grants for workforce reeducation, paid for by a tax on the wages employees are required to contribute to unemployment insurance. TVEP was created initially in 2000 and provides grants to organizations like Ilisagvik College and the Alaska Technical Center. According to information the Alaska Research Consortium provided the House Fisheries Committee, the average annual contribution from employees in seafood processing and packaging to the TVEP program is about $600,000 annually. “We think TVEP resources are a good way to get it started and moving forward,” Cullenberg said. Kodiak in crosshairs Kodiak as a community is deeply connected to the seafood industry; in addition to being the third-largest port for commercial fishing landings in the United States by volume, the archipelago is home to the popular Kodiak Crab Festival and ComFish Alaska each year. Beyond the direct jobs in the fishing industry, the spending and wages in that industry create other jobs in the economy. But in recent years, the fishing fleet there has seen a number of its major fisheries reduced or closed entirely. Halibut fishermen have watched catch limits decline over the past decade along with the biomass; herring fisheries have dropped; this year brought a complete closure to the 2020 Pacific cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska; and crab fisheries have been closed or significantly scaled back over time. Salmon has been a reliable standby, with millions of the fish returning to the rivers and streams of Kodiak each summer, but the season is short and the runs can be unpredictable. The Board of Fisheries also recently changed two management plans that shift sockeye salmon fishing opportunities away from Kodiak in Cape Igvak and in the Katmai and Alinchak areas along the mainland Alaska Peninsula, cutting into the sockeye salmon fishery from the island. “What’s happening in Kodiak … is that you have a cascading chain of events that is creating increased pressure or diminishing opportunity for resident workers,” said Duncan Fields, the chairman of the Kodiak Salmon Workgroup and a member of the Alaska Research Consortium board. “We have seen the downturn of a number of fisheries. So it’s cumulative impact.” As those fisheries decline, so may jobs for processing plant workers. Over time, with reductions in hours and opportunities, families with long histories in processing jobs have not been able to make it anymore, Fields said; Kodiak has been gradually losing population over the course of the last decade. Fields said the estimated economic loss with the two sockeye fishery changes would be between $2 million and $3 million on the island. However, it doesn’t mean there’s no demand for plant workers, and especially for skilled workers, he said. The newer plants in particular have fewer manual jobs and more computerization, particularly on heavy equipment like canning machines. While some training can be done on the job, processing companies are interested in having skilled people who are willing to stay over time, he said. “It’s difficult to recruit and train and currently, the processing companies themselves are bearing most of the cost of training men and women to be part of the seafood industry,” he said. “I believe it’s a wonderful industry; I believe it’s a great career path for people.” The ARC program would be based in Kodiak and would be focused primarily on training residents, but nonresidents would be able to apply, Fields said. House Fisheries Chairman Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said at the opening of the meeting that she would be interested in securing annual funding for the program proposed by the consortium. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: First checks finally set for 2016 pink salmon disaster

It’s been a long time coming but payments should soon be in hand for Alaska fishermen, processors and coastal communities hurt by the 2016 pink salmon run failure, the worst in 40 years. The funds are earmarked for Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik, Lower Cook Inlet, South Alaska Peninsula, Southeast Alaska and Yakutat. Congress OK’d more than $56 million in federal relief in 2017, but the authorization to cut the money loose languished on NOAA desks in D.C. for more than two years. The payouts got delayed again last October when salmon permit holders, who share the biggest chunk at nearly $32 million, were finally able to apply to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission for their checks. But when it was discovered that the way in which the payouts were calculated was badly flawed, the PSMFC put on the brakes. “There was a big snafu because a lot of the crew was under reported by the skippers. So Pacific States said that until everything gets squared away, no one is going to get any checks,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who has been watchdogging the payouts since the ink fishery was declared a disaster. About 1,300 salmon permit holders are eligible for payments, according to the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “In terms of eligible crew, we can only report the number of crew names submitted on CFEC permit holder applications because no data are available on crew fishery participation. Pacific States received applications from about 850 CFEC permit holders that listed about 2,000 crew names,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a statement to Stutes’ office, adding: “We are working to try and follow up with CFEC permit holders that did not submit applications to try and maximize the distribution of payments.” “That was just not acceptable,” Stutes said, quickly crediting leadership at ADFG for coming up with a better solution. “With the help of Commissioner (Doug) Vincent-Lang and Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker we worked with the commission and they agreed to send out checks to those individuals who they had no questions about,” Stutes explained, adding that checks should be in the mail by mid-February. “And they are going to send out letters to individuals they do have questions about to give them an opportunity to immediately reply rather than wait till the appeal period.” Alaska pink salmon processors will split nearly $18 million in disaster relief funds. “They are trying to figure out how to pay their employees and what employees qualify,” she said. “So, it’s finally moving after three-and-a-half years.” $2.4 million in disaster funds is set aside for municipalities and nearly $4 million will go to pink salmon research: $450,000 to Kodiak’s Kitoi Bay Hatchery for its Saltwater Marking Sampling project; $680,000 to the Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey to help with pink salmon forecasting; and $2.5 million to the Alaska Hatchery Research Project that since 2010 has studied interactions of hatchery and wild salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast. Fishery disasters also were declared for the 2018 cod collapse in the Gulf of Alaska and the sockeye salmon failure at Chignik. Recipients should fare better if Congress approves a bill introduced last week by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. The bipartisan bill, called Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act (Fishery FUNDD Act), would improve the federal fishery disaster process and set a strict timeline for payout of funds. As Stutes readied for Juneau for the Jan. 21 start of the legislative session, she said she was “optimistic.” “I feel like the people of Alaska have sent a message to the administration and I’m hoping the administration will be a little more willing to interact with the legislature,” she said. “That was a big stumbling block last year. We did not have much communication between the administration and the legislature. And you just don’t get anything done when you have such a divided body. I’m optimistic that we can come together as a unit and protect Alaskans.” As chair of the fisheries committee Stutes said a top priority will be ensuring a robust ADFG budget. “When you cut the Fish and Game budget, you’re cutting revenue to the state,” she said. In terms of fishery measures left over from last session, Stutes said a goal is to pass a bill (House Bill 35) that resolves conflict of interest protocols for the state Board of Fisheries. “When you have a board member who has expertise in a certain area and is conflicted out and can’t even express his knowledge to other board members, what’s the point of having him on the board?” she explained. “This bill will allow them to participate in the conversation but will not allow them to vote on the issue. We’ve been trying to change this for 14 years and this is the closest we’ve come.” Another Stutes bill (HB 185) aims to rewrite the 2018 Derelict Vessel Act to exempt boats already licensed with the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The new law requires that owners of all boats longer than 24 feet register in person at a DMV, including those already documented by the U.S. Coast Guard. “That’s kind of a double whammy for individuals who already have registered through the CFEC. It’s a duplication of information,” Stutes explained. “The idea is not to create additional revenue for the state, but to create a data base so they have access to ownership to vessels that are in Alaska waters.” Forest fish A first ever, 10-year study estimates the numbers and values of what the Tongass and Chugach forest rivers and streams contribute to Alaska’s commercial salmon industry. The Tongass is the largest national forest in the U.S. at nearly 27,000 square miles and covers most of Southeast Alaska. The adjacent Chugach at half the size ranks as the nation’s second-largest forest and covers the Copper River delta, Prince William Sound, and part of the Kenai Peninsula. The study results showed that from 2007 to 2016 the two forests contributed 48 million salmon on average each year to commercial fisheries, with a dockside value of $88 million. These “forest fish” represented 25 percent of Alaska’s total salmon catch for decade and 16 percent of the total commercial value. For the Tongass, the most lucrative “forest fish” was pink salmon averaging $42 million to fishermen each year. Cohos came next, averaging nearly $15 million and chums at almost $9 million. For the Chugach, the priciest returns came from sockeye salmon, which produced $10.5 million in local catches on average. Pinks were next at $6.2 million. The study said it underestimates the value of salmon produced by the forests, as it only takes into account commercial harvests and does not recreational or subsistence uses. It also counts only dockside value, and not the economic impacts of local fish processing. The 10-year project was funded by the U.S. Forest Service, which is interested in estimating the different activities and services that national forests provide. Find Quantifying the Monetary Value of Alaska National Forests to Commercial Pacific Salmon Fisheries in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management. Fish updates Cod and a mix of groundfish kicked off the fishing year on Jan. 1 in the Bering Sea and throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Boats also are targeting black rockfish in Southeast, around Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula and along the Aleutians. Lingcod also is open in Southeast, where divers also have wrapped up a 2 million pound sea cucumber fishery and are still tapping on giant geoduck clams. More than 100 Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter king salmon. Alaska pollock opened on Jan. 20 in the Gulf and Bering Sea where the catch will again top 3 billion pounds. Prince William Sound also has a 5 million-pound pollock fishery. Bering Sea crabbers are still out on the grounds pulling up 34 million pounds of snow crab, a 24 percent increase. Kodiak’s Jan. 15 Tanner crab fishery was pushed back a day due to high winds. Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open in Southeast on Feb. 17, and Tanners open on March 1 at Prince William Sound. Winter is the busiest time for Alaska fish meetings. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Jan. 27 through Feb. 2 in Seattle. Halibut stakeholders are bracing for 2020 catches when they are announced in two weeks. The International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting is at the Captain Cook in Anchorage this year from Feb. 3-7. The Board of Fish put in an extra day at Kodiak and heads next to a marathon meeting on Upper Cook Inlet fishing issues. More than 170 management proposals are on deck from Feb 7-19 at the Anchorage Egan Center. The 40th annual ComFish Alaska trade show is set for March 26-28 in Kodiak. The fourth annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo is scheduled for June 12-13 in Naknek. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Board shifts salmon from Kodiak to Chignik, Cook Inlet

Commercial fishermen in Kodiak will lose some of their time and area for salmon fishing in two management areas as part of an effort to put more salmon in Chignik and northern Cook Inlet. The Board of Fisheries passed several proposals at its meeting Jan. 15 that will cut back on available salmon fishing time in the Cape Igvak area and along sections of the Alaska Peninsula. Kodiak fishermen lost both significant time and area, which commenters said would be a major economic hit for commercial salmon fishermen there. The board passed two proposals changing salmon management plans in the area after multiple days of comment and deliberation last week in Kodiak, including more than a hundred people who came to testify about the proposed restrictions. The proposals are at the crux of a variety of interests: concern about the long-term viability of the Chignik salmon fishery and the interception of Cook Inlet-bound sockeye by the Kodiak fishing fleet. In particular, the presence of Cook Inlet salmon stocks in Kodiak management area fisheries has caused consternation in the Cook Inlet fleet, in part because of the already-high demand on Cook Inlet fisheries in all sectors. Proposal 60, which the board modified before passing, reduces the allocation of salmon to Kodiak in the Cape Igvak section in western Kodiak. The original proposal cut it from 15 percent to five percent of the total Chignik Area sockeye salmon catch; the board modified it to set the allocation as close to 7.5 percent as possible. It also reduces the length of the season by about 20 days and doubles the allocation for Chignik fishermen before the area opens for Kodiak fishermen; previously, Chignik fishermen had to catch 300,000 sockeye before Kodiak fishermen could fish at Cape Igvak. That limit is now set at 600,000. Board member Marit Carlson-Van Dort, who proposed the modified language for the board, said she heard agreement among stakeholders about concern for Chignik stocks, and in addition to aligning other existing regulations, this proposal could help address that. “The Chignik early run sockeye salmon are struggling,” she said. “I sat here and heard that from virtually all the stakeholder groups over the last few days. In my mind, that point is indisputable.” The other, proposal 64, originally sought to change the management plans for Cape Igvak, North Shelikof Strait and the Mainland District. The purpose, according to proposal author Dan Anderson, was to constrain Kodiak harvest of non-Kodiak stocks as much as possible. The board members changed the proposal with new language, increasing the sockeye salmon catch caps in the Mainland District and Shelikof Strait District to 20,000 sockeye salmon and change the fishing time allowance. It also extends the North Shelikof Strait Management Plan to Alinchak Bay and Katmai, requiring those two areas to be based on local stocks. Board member Israel Payton backed the proposal, saying it could help move some of the Cook Inlet-bound salmon further north, particularly toward the Susitna River, which has been struggling to meet returns and sustain a fishery. Board member John Jensen opposed both proposals, raising concerns about the economic impact on Kodiak and noting that Cook Inlet commercial fisheries would have to be addressed if the sockeye passing through Kodiak now will make it all the way north to the Susitna River. “These fish we do pass will definitely go into another fishery,” he said.”They’ll be going into the Upper Cook Inlet fishery.” Fishermen and biologists have long suspected that salmon harvested around Kodiak are not all headed for Kodiak streams. However, the extent of it became clear after an Alaska Department of Fish and Game genetic composition study published in 2017 showed the percentages of various stock catches in some Kodiak fisheries from 2014-16; Cook Inlet-bound stocks composed a significant percentage as great as 37 percent in one season. At the meeting in Kodiak, ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division salmon fisheries scientist Bill Templin told the board that scientists have been studying the origins of salmon in Kodiak for a long time, but data has varied over time. The most recent genetic data about the stock composition is limited in scope — it only covers a small number of the fishery areas and only over 2014-16 and extrapolating it to other years comes with that caveat — Templin said. The various studies on the topic have varied in scope, area and purpose, he said. “We recognize that the board is charged with making decisions using the best available information,” he said. “The board routinely must use limited or uncertain data and information from studies that were not designed to answer the question being asked by the concerned public.” There were a variety of other proposals, some more severe, proposed for the meeting to restrict Kodiak sockeye salmon harvest that the board did not pass. Stakeholders from Kodiak raised concerns about the stability of their fishery, particularly economically, if the changes proposed went through. One of the main contentions stakeholders from Kodiak raised was that the genetic data should not be widely applied, and nor should the origin of stocks dictate where they are harvested. “They tell you what everybody knew for about a hundred years, maybe 50 years: that not all the fish we catch are Kodiak fish,” said Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Bill Roberts. “If you (pass all these proposals restricting) the salmon fishery in Kodiak, you will greatly cripple the salmon fleet, and you will cripple the economy of this island.” Kodiak Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sarah Phillips told the board that heavy restrictions on the salmon fishery will ricochet through the island’s economy. About 38 percent of the area’s jobs are in fisheries. A heavy blow to fisheries means secondary effects in other jobs, she said. In recent years, the cuts in groundfish fisheries — including this year’s complete closure of the Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery — have led to fishermen relying more heavily on salmon. “If the suggested proposals are adopted, a significant portion of our employment will be affected,” she told the board. “The fishery income loss will be compounded and potentially devastate fisheries and non-fisheries businesses.” The economic estimates for impact on Kodiak were based on old versions of the proposals, before the board modified them, and so may no longer accurately reflect changes in the fisheries. The Kodiak Island Borough estimated the losses from several of the proposals in the Cape Igvak area and the North Shelikof Strait in the millions, Kodiak Island Borough Assembly member Dan Arndt told the board. The board tabled one more proposal, Proposal 37, which would create paired restrictions for king salmon harvest between Cook Inlet and Kodiak, until the Upper Cook Inlet meeting, partly to get more information about funding for another study related to it. That meeting is set to begin Feb. 7 in Anchorage. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Rockfish closure another blow to Southeast fleet

Southeast Alaska fishermen won’t get to target yelloweye rockfish in 2020, and that’s another notch in tightening belt for the area fleet. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the full-year closure on Dec. 31, spanning both the commercial and recreational sectors. Targeted fishing for all nonpelagic rockfish, which includes species like yelloweye, quillback, tiger and china rockfish, will be closed across the region due to declining populations of the fish. Nonpelagic rockfish, particularly yelloweye, are popular among sport anglers and are regularly caught by the longline commercial fishing fleet in the region. The personal use fisheries for yelloweye in Sitka and Ketchikan will also be closed for 2020, according to the announcement. Biologists come up with an estimate for biomass of demersal shelf rockfish — another term for the nonpelagic rockfish species — by surveying yelloweye rockfish, the most populous and frequently harvested species, in given areas each year. They also take biological samples at ports when fish are landed. The population of yelloweye has been declining since the mid-1990s, despite conservative management measures. Biomass has declined by about 60 percent since 1994, according to the closure announcement from ADFG. “These concerns warrant further management action to allow for rebuilding of (demersal shelf rockfish) stocks and to ensure sustainable rockfish fisheries in the future. Further restrictions in other fisheries will be considered to reduce DSR bycatch.” The age classes are being truncated as well, said Andrew Olson, the groundfish and shellfish coordinator for Southeast Alaska with Fish and Game. Yelloweye rockfish are an extremely long-lived species; they can live to be about 120 years old, and don’t start spawning until they are 18 to 22 years old. In recent years, surveys have shown fewer older fish and fewer young fish entering the fishery, Olson said. “The older fish, those big females, have the most eggs,” he said. “At the same time, we’re not seeing as many fish coming into the fishery, so we’re narrowing our age structure.” The decline has been going on for more than two decades and restrictions have ramped up. Managers started implementing restrictions to the fishery in 2006, with the Board of Fisheries setting up an allocation system to control harvest and tighter limits being placed on sportfisheries. In the last few years, commercial fishery closures for demersal shelf rockfish have gone into place as well in various areas, Olson said. However, biomass has continued to decline, with the exact reasons not entirely clear. The closures are the next step as biologists, managers and stakeholders work on plans to rebuild the stocks, Olson said. During the last winter season, commercial fishermen in the northern and southern Southeast areas together took about 38,749 pounds of demersal shelf rockfish. While it’s not necessarily a major fishery compared to salmon and halibut, it’s an important fishery to some communities because it is open-access, Olson said. “Yelloweye rockfish makes up the majority of our (nonpelagic rockfish) harvest in the commercial fishery — (it) comprises about 95 percent, next largest is quillback, and pretty much everything else is miniscule,” he said. “It’s an important fishery in that it’s an open access fishery; it’s typically one of the few fisheries that are open when everything else is closed down.” Because rockfish is such a long-lived species, it will take time to rebuild. West Coast states have had to do the same, with their stocks depleted more severely than Alaska’s; the hope is to start reversing the problem sooner to help conserve the stock for the future, Olson said. The recreational fleet also often targets nonpelagic rockfish in Southeast: typically yelloweye, as they are one of the largest species, but also tiger, canary, and china rockfish, among other species. In 2018, anglers in Southeast harvested 163,822 fish, up from 149,927 in 2017 but down from a high of 193,098 in 2014, according to ADFG’s sport fishing survey. Fishermen have gradually seen more restrictions go into place on nonpelagic rockfish, particularly yelloweye, said Bob Chadwick, the sportfish coordinator for Southeast Alaska. Most recently, the annual limit for nonresident anglers in Alaska is a single yelloweye rockfish. Much of the effort for yelloweye rockfish comes from nonresident anglers, but residents do target them, he said. Nonpelagic rockfish will often occupy similar habitat to halibut, but avoiding fishing near rocky structures can help reduce the number of rockfish hooked by accident when fishing for them is closed, Chadwick said. “Fish in sandy areas, try to stay off rock structures,” he said. “That’s the main thing; if you’re fishing for halibut, some anglers find that fishing up in the water column, keeping it up off the bottom will reduce your harvest of rockfish.” The Southeast guide industry is increasingly losing options, with tighter restrictions on king salmon populations that are struggling to make escapement each year, a high likelihood of reduced halibut catch limits due to declining biomass, and now a complete nonpelagic rockfish closure. Lingcod, another popular species for sportfishing, is also fully allocated ad closely and is sustainable at present, Chadwick said. In a newsletter, the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization said it would ask ADFG to modify the emergency order closing the fishery to yelloweye only, allowing sportfishermen to target other nonpelagic rock species, given that it is the yelloweye abundance that has dropped so significantly. The organization will also petition the state to separate slope rockfish from the current “nonpelagic” definition in statute, according to the newsletter. While only Southeast has the complete closure, a new regulation went into place for sportfishing for rockfish statewide this year: deepwater release mechanisms. As of Jan. 1, every vessel headed out to sportfish — regardless of whether the anglers are targeting rockfish or not — must have a deepwater release mechanism on board. The devices allow rockfish brought up to the surface to be lowered back down to their native depths and released there, which has been shown to significantly improve survival rates; rockfish suffer from decompression when reeled to the surface, but if quickly lowered to depth and released, they show much better survival rates. Chadwick said the Southeast guide industry has been using the deepwater release mechanisms for years, so it’s nothing new for them, but the public is becoming more comfortable with them. A creel survey in Southeast Outside waters showed that about 80 percent of nonguided anglers polled had used a deepwater release mechanism at least once, he said. “We’re concentrating now on what (we missed) with those people who aren’t using them,” he said. “Really, an upside-down weight on a hook would work.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Marketing efforts paying off for Bristol Bay sockeye

In Alaska, Bristol Bay is nearly synonymous with sockeye salmon. But in the Lower 48, marketers are still trying to raise awareness for the brand and increase sales for the famously plentiful fish. So far, it seems like it’s been working. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, a fleet-funded cooperative focusing on promoting and improving Bristol Bay seafood products, launched a new marketing program in 2016 to boost sales and awareness in the domestic market. After three years, the numbers seem to bear out that it is working: the organization reported a 34 percent sales lift for the 20 retailers across the U.S. in 2019. That sales lift refers to volume sold, said Executive Director Andy Wink. Participating retailers include Costco, Earth Fare, H-E-B, Harris Teeter, Market Basket, New Seasons Market, QFC, Raleys, Rouses, Rosauers and Wegmans; all told, across the 20 retailers, the program and product includes 1,600 stores nationally. BBRSDA has long been focused on improving quality of product, but after helping the fleet modernize to refrigerating product and emphasizing fillets instead of canning, the organization identified a marketing program as the next step, Wink said. Between 2008 and 2018, the percentage of filleted fish in the Bristol Bay fleet increased from 18 percent to 86 percent, in part subsidized by BBRSDA’s distribution of ice for the fleet and the promotion of refrigerated sea water cooling systems. “The time was right to create a marketing platform that could tell the amazing Bristol Bay story and communicate the special aspects of sockeye salmon from the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery to consumers in a really efficient way for industry,” Wink said in an email. “In a world with more and more farmed salmon being produced every year, this is a really special wild fish which shouldn’t be sitting on shelves as a generic product. We needed to explain the story and value to consumers.” The marketing program includes a variety of approaches, including negotiated discounts with retailers, in-store demonstrations, point-of-sale assets, digital marketing support, media support and some visits from Bristol Bay fishermen to talk with customers and staff, Wink said. “Consumers get more information, access to resources (recipes, prep tips, etc.) and discounted sale prices,” he said. “Retail partners sell more product and illustrate a commitment to offering premium, sustainable wild seafood. And the industry gets to sell product into a marketplace with a growing customer base, which has come at a perfect time coinciding with large sockeye runs in the Bay.” Bristol Bay fishermen have brought in near-record harvests of sockeye over the past two summers, with just short of 43 million landed in 2019, with a preliminary ex-vessel value of about $303.9 million, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That large supply, in combination with marketing efforts, may be supporting increased consumer awareness of sockeye salmon specifically, said Caleb Wardell, the wild salmon category manager for Oregon-based retailer Pacific Seafood. “From my perspective, the demand for sockeye salmon is driven by a consistent supply in the last few years, coupled with the variety (of) forms in which it’s available: refreshed in the service counter, tray-packed in self-serve areas, and portions in the freezer,” he said. Salmon consumption is generally ticking up across the U.S. over the past several years. In 2017, Americans consumed about 16 pounds of fish and shellfish per capita, up from the previous year, with the majority of that consumption being shrimp and salmon. On average, Americans ate about 2.41 pounds of salmon per person that year, slightly up from the previous year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2017 Fisheries of the United States report. Though canned salmon consumption was up, fresh and frozen finfish still composed the greatest portion of the seafood Americans consumed, at 6.2 pounds. BBRSDA has commitments from retailers for 2020 already, according to a press release from the organization. So far, the Bristol Bay program has focused on promoting frozen sockeye, but in future expansions, it may expand to include more smoked sockeye, Wink said. It is also currently focused on domestic sales but will look to international sales, food service and other product forms in future years. BBRSDA will have a presence at Global Seafood Expo in Brussels this year and is working to coordinate with restaurants and other food service outlets in the future, Wink said. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute generally markets all Alaska-produced seafood, but in some regions, smaller organizations have been adding additional marketing efforts. BBRSDA markets for Bristol Bay; the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association focuses on seafood produced in Prince William Sound; the Norton Sound Economic Development Association focuses on products like red king crab harvested in Nome. Wink said the BBRSDA supports ASMI’s efforts to market all sockeye but that its program provides an opportunity to tell a more specific story. Wardell said the stories told by partners like ASMI and BBRSDA, particularly with marketing materials and photographs of Alaska, have been successful for retailers. “These consistent efforts excite consumers, leading to increased purchase of Alaska seafood, in this case, Bristol Bay Sockeye,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Hotly contested Cook Inlet board meeting looms

In less than a month, fisheries stakeholders from all over the Cook Inlet basin will get together to hash out how salmon should be split up in some of the most populated, heavily-fished streams and marine waters of the state. The Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting is the longest meeting in the Board of Fisheries’ regular cycle, lasting about two full weeks and addressing issues ranging from hook size in certain streams to management plan shifts for entire fisheries. They’re also notoriously contentious, with commercial and sport fisheries interests typically butting heads over how salmon are allocated and fishing time is provided. The Board of Fisheries will meet on Upper Cook Inlet proposals in Anchorage from Feb. 7-19 at the Egan Center. On-time public comments can be submitted through Jan. 23. The board will consider 171 different proposals related to commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries across the basin. Of those, 68 are directly related to sport or personal-use fisheries; 55 are directly related to commercial fishery management; a variety of others affect both, including changes to management plans or commercial fishery time and area regulations. Sportfisheries The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, is one of the most frequent visitors to board meetings. The organization, which advocates for salmon-related conservation projects on the western Kenai Peninsula and for policies affecting sportfisheries in Southcentral, submitted a number of proposals for the board, ranging from proposing increased sockeye salmon escapement goal numbers to a priority being established for fisheries that provide access for Alaskans to harvest salmon for personal and family consumption. After longtime executive director Ricky Gease stepped down to take over leadership at the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Ben Mohr took over the Soldotna-based organization last March. The group’s proposals circulate around four main themes, he said: increasing access to personal-use fisheries in the Mat-Su Valley, strengthening the corridors to pass more fish north through Cook Inlet, increasing salmon passage into the freshwater systems, and strengthening the work of conservation across all user groups. Some of the group’s proposals overlap in purpose, Mohr said, as they aim at conservation and increasing access for anglers. One of the group’s proposals, No. 78, would set up a prioritization framework for the board to consider when making decisions, putting access to “the importance of each fishery to providing residents the opportunity to harvest fish for personal and family consumption” at the top. That lines up with the organization’s thematic goals, but isn’t the only one related to it, he said. “If you’ve got people that are putting in multiple proposals to the Board of Fish, they’re usually tied together,” he said. The personal-use priority proposal is a renewed version of a proposal the group supported during the Board of Fisheries’ statewide meeting this past March. The board shot the prioritization system down then, citing a lack of support from users. Mohr pointed out that the language of Proposal 78 does not specifically reference personal-use net fisheries, as Alaskans often use rod-and-reel fisheries to fill their freezers, too. That connects to another of the group’s proposals, No. 88, which would increase sockeye salmon in-river goal ranges, with varying levels based on the run strength. In the past, as more fish have returned to the river, the limiting factor has not been level of participation, Mohr said, it’s been access and bag limits. He pointed to the Russian River sportfishery, which boomed this summer and was limited by access along the Sterling Highway and parking. Several other proposals related to the sockeye salmon management plan make similar assertions, expressing frustration that commercial fishermen are allocated the majority of sockeye in Cook Inlet. Proposals 89, 90 and 96 ask for higher in-river sockeye salmon goal ranges and fewer commercial fishing hours available, and Proposal 94 asks for reduced commercial fishing hours in the Upper Subdistrict setnet fishery. Commercial fisheries Multiple sportfish-related proposals related to king salmon seek to pair closures in the Kenai River with closures in the commercial fisheries. At the 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meeting, the board passed a set of regulations that restricted commercial fisheries based on whether the in-river fisheries were allowed to retain, used bait or not fish for king salmon at all. In 2017, the board trimmed back some of those restrictions on hours of additional fishing allowed after the setnet fleet complained that they were too restrictive; multiple proposals now seek to strengthen those paired restrictions again. Multiple others seek to scale them back, asserting that they are unfair burdens on the commercial fleet and strangle their ability to operate under their permits. Like many other Upper Cook Inlet meetings, the proposals for the upcoming one are back-and-forth. For nearly every change proposed to increase restrictions on commercial fisheries, there is a competing proposal from commercial fisheries to loosen existing restrictions, tighten restrictions on sportfisheries or strike a compromise between them. A number of proposals submitted by setnet fishermen would modify the paired restrictions or allow setnet fishing in some areas while others are restricted during king salmon restrictions on the Kenai River. The KRSA proposal would establish an Optimum Escapement Goal, or OEG, separate from the existing goals, for late-run kings and reduce the number of hours available to setnets when king salmon fisheries are less than fully prosecuted, with tiers depending on the level of restriction. Mohr said the goal is to spread the burden of conservation of king salmon, which have been struggling on the Kenai River for more than a decade, across all user groups. A separate proposal, No. 195, would change the effective date of a rule for commercial fishermen known as the “1 percent rule” from Aug. 7 to July 31 and increase the percentage to 2 percent. Essentially, if the proposal passes, after July 31, the commercial fishery in the Upper Subdistrict would close if any single period’s catch was less than 2 percent of the season’s total catch was taken for two consecutive periods. The goal is to limit take of coho salmon bound for the Kenai River, according to the proposal document. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, a trade association representing drift gillnet fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet, submitted Proposal 187 to eliminate the 1 percent rule on the drift fleet entirely. UCIDA President David Martin said the proposal is based on the fleet’s longtime belief that the 1 percent rule is unscientific and unfairly closes the fleet early, while there are still pink, chum and silver salmon available to be harvested in the inlet. It’s difficult for the fleet to deal with, even if there are plenty of salmon coming in, in part because participation drops off in August, he said. “It has no place in the management of the fisheries for harvesting the surplus and abundance,” he said. “I could be the only “one out there fishing and I could load my boat up, but if it’s not 1 percent, that’d be it. Similarly, UCIDA submitted a Proposal 102 to decrease the late-run sockeye salmon escapement goals on the Kenai River. The group has long asserted that the escapement goals are too high and set to allocate more fish to the sportfishery, resulting in poorer returns due to too many fish being allowed to return to the Kenai River system. Proposal 102 would require the department to manage to the lower end of the escapement goal — which would be set at 700,000 fish — in years immediately following years when the estimated return exceeds 1.03 million spawners in the Kenai River. A number of the proposals for the commercial drift gillnet fishery, such as proposals 123 and 126, seek to increase restrictions on fishing area to promote passage of salmon to the Susitna River and other northern Cook Inlet systems. Contrasting them, UCIDA submitted two proposals, Nos. 134 and 135, to add additional fishing periods for the drifters in Area 1, near the center of the Inlet, during the season. Martin said the managers have been meeting escapement goals for sockeye in the Susitna system, and that the main stock in trouble in the Valley — king salmon — isn’t under pressure by the drift fleet. Mohr said KRSA was interested in improving access to fisheries there, as businesses have shuttered and anglers have seen season after season of closures in recent years due to a lack of salmon passage into the valley streams. “I think we’ve made some good progress on passing more fish north,” he said. “(Mat-Su residents) are longing for more fish up there.” Martin said he hoped the board members would consider scientific research when making allocative decisions at the upcoming meeting. “I’m hoping they use the most reliable scientific data that’s available and make decisions based on abundance so we can harvest the surplus and make it a viable fishery for everybody,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Winter fisheries set to ramp up; GM labels coming in 2020

Alaska’s seafood industry will be “open for business” starting Jan. 1 when some of the biggest fisheries get underway long before the start of the first salmon runs in mid-May. Cod will begin it all in the Bering Sea, which has a 305.5 million-pound catch quota, down about a million pounds from 2019. Less than 6 million pounds of codfish will come out of the Gulf. A 400,000-pound Tanner crab fishery at Kodiak starting on Jan. 15 will be helpful to a town whose economic bottom line will be badly battered by the Gulf cod crash. But it will be the opening of Alaska pollock on Jan. 20 that will keep Kodiak’s processing workforce on the job, along with many other Gulf and Bering Sea communities. The Gulf of Alaska pollock catch took a slide to about 250 million pounds, a drop of more than 57 million pounds from 2019. Conversely, the Bering Sea will produce more than 3 billion pounds of Alaska pollock this year, a 2 percent increase. Mid-January is also around the time when Bering Sea crabbers will get serious about pulling up snow crab. That quota is nearly 34 million pounds, a 24 percent increase from last season. Southeast Alaska crabbers will drop pots for golden king crab and Tanner crab on Feb. 17. In recent years, those harvests have been in the 76,000- and 1 million-pound range, respectively. Halibut fisheries will open to more than 2,000 Alaska longliners in March. Catches will be announced by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in early February. Also coming in the spring: roe herring fisheries with some jaw dropping harvests. At Sitka Sound, a catch quota of 25,824 tons is double the 2019 limit when the fishery was called off for the first time in decades due to the small size of the fish. Managers predict heftier herring next spring, saying the forecasted 2020 age-4 herring population is “extremely high.” “The 2020 forecast is larger than the estimated 2019 mature biomass of 130,738 tons and is greater than any forecast previously estimated for Sitka Sound herring,” said a release by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. At Alaska’s biggest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay, a whopping 38,749-ton harvest is forecasted. Up next for the state Board of Fisheries is Kodiak, where it will meet Jan. 11-14. The seven-member board sets the rules for subsistence, commercial, sport, and personal use fisheries and takes up issues by region every three years. Thirty-six Kodiak proposals are on the docket. Murkowski: Name it or no sale Makers of Frankenfish have changed their tune now that labeling their product is about to become law. In a $1.4 trillion appropriations bill passed by Congress two weeks ago to avoid another government shutdown, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski slipped in a rider that will require “a clear, text-based label” that tells customers they are buying “genetically engineered” fish. The manmade fish, first created in 1989 by Massachusetts-based Aqua Bounty Technologies, replaces a growth hormone gene in Atlantic salmon with one from a Pacific chinook, and combines it with antifreeze proteins from an ocean pout, giving it the ability to survive in near-freezing waters. The tweak enables the GM salmon to grow year-round, nearly three times faster than normal fish. The salmon are grown at a land-based facility in Indiana. The labeling rule is a final hurdle for AquaBounty to sell its salmon in the U.S. The push has been two decades in the making; with approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015 the “AquaAdvantage” fish now is set to go to market by late 2020. AquaBounty called Murkowski’s push for labeling “vague” and “unnecessary” and said it was a “misguided attempt to single out a small, innovative company to protect special interests,” adding in a release that the rider only benefits “Chilean and Norwegian companies that currently export more Atlantic salmon to the U.S. than any American company produces.” That’s a change of tune from October when AquaBounty embraced the Frankenfish name at a conference in Washington, D.C., likening it to the Frankenstein monster in the book written in 1817, and calling opponents an “uneducated mob” that “didn’t understand the benefits of the science.” Then, company CEO Sylvia Wulf applauded the push for labeling. “We think that’s really good news for us. The market will be awash in so many bioengineered products, customers won’t focus on our fish,” Wulf said at the time, adding “buyers are already lined up to get it.” That sounds like a tough sell. Nearly 2 million Americans opposed the FDA’s approval of Frankenfish and 60 major grocery chains with 9,000 locations pledged not to sell it, including Safeway, Kroger, and Target. Meanwhile, Jeremy Woodrow, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said it’s just another type of farmed fish. “Honestly, here at ASMI we see that as just another farmed seafood product, and we’ve been competing against farmed salmon in the marketplace for several decades now. Wild, natural, sustainable – those are attributes that really only apply to Alaska salmon, wild-harvested salmon and that sets us apart in the marketplace, and those are the attributes that we’ll continue to sell to customers.” In a touch of irony, while AquaBounty plans to expand its sales to China and South America, it has no plans to pitch its Frankenfish to Europe because of “their anti-GM leanings.” Bristol Bay goes galactic! The famed Nushagak and Mulchatna Rivers are now named in the cosmos as an intergalactic star and exoplanet (planets that are outside of our solar system that revolve around other stars instead of the sun). The International Astronomical Union chose the names that were submitted by Ivory Adajar, a Bristol Bay fisherman and member of the Curyung Tribal Council. Adajar’s winning entries topped a field of nearly 900 entries in the competition and were announced in Paris on Dec. 17. She chose the name Nushagak for a star and Mulchatna for an exoplanet, Adajar said, “after earth’s greatest wild salmon river ecosystems that resemble the nature of the exoplanet’s orbit,” she told the Cordova Times, adding, “Our wild salmon are known for their wiggly, eccentric paths out to the ocean and back to fresh water. We might not have this natural habitat and rich fisheries in the future but we can have the star and exoplanet in honor of Alaska’s rich salmon culture and heritage.” “After winning this great honor,” she added, “I plan to use it as a platform to help educate youth and others about our beautiful starry sky above and the rich natural ecology of our Earth below.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

2020 Forecast: Bristol Bay still looks bright, but fishermen face cuts in cod, crab and halibut

Judging by the forecasts, 2020 could be an eventful year in Alaska’s commercial fisheries. Even though not all the forecasts and catch limits are rosy, there are some bright spots, such as an increased eastern Bering Sea snow crab total allowable catch and another promising forecast for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. However, fishermen this winter are looking at tighter limits in some groundfish fisheries, particularly in the Gulf of Alaska. Bristol Bay Continuing its trend of the last few years, Bristol Bay’s salmon fishermen are looking at another bright forecast for 2020. Biologists are projecting a total inshore run of 46.6 million sockeye to return bay-wide, with a projected harvest of 36.91 million sockeye between the Bristol Bay and South Peninsula fisheries. If the point forecast pans out, it will be 6 percent more than the recent 10-year average. It would about 10 million fish less than the 2019 inshore run of 56.5 million sockeye, which produced a harvest of 43 million sockeye. However, the forecast in 2019 was for 38.7 million sockeye; the actual run blew away the preseason forecast by mid-July. All systems are projected to meet their escapement goals, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preseason forecast. The Naknek-Kvichak District is forecasted to see a return of 19.97 million fish; the Egegik District, 10.75 million; the Ugashik District, 4.67 million; the Nushagak District, 12.63 million; and the Togiak District, 930,000 fish, according to Fish and Game. Bristol Bay red king crab fisheries are a different story. Harvest limits were cut again this past year, this time by 12 percent, with recruitment looking poor and continued declines in the number of crabs available for harvest. The crab is a high-value one for the fleet, but biologists have pointed to environmental factors as a contributor to the decline. Southeast Commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska are looking at a weak pink salmon forecast for 2020, with an estimated 12 million fish forecasted to be available for harvest. That’s close to the bottom of the “weak” range of ADFG percentile categories, which ranges from 11 million to 19 million fish and only about a third of the recent 10-year average of 35 million fish harvested. It’s not entirely unexpected, with low numbers of juveniles detected in 2019. Biologists noted that pink salmon escapements in 2018, when fish would be laying eggs that would migrate out in 2019 and return in 2020, were very poor. Chum returns, which are largely of hatchery origin, look varied as well. While the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association is forecasting a total return of more than 3.9 million between the early and late runs, a similar number to what returned in 2019, Southern Southeast Aquaculture Association’s is a little more than 2 million, less than half the 4.5 million forecasted to return in 2019. Douglas Island Pink and Chum is predicting 1.98 million chum salmon to return, not even enough to meet DIPAC’s cost recovery requirements. After broodstock requirements, 1.7 million would be available for harvest, according to DIPAC’s forecast. “If 100 percent of the 2020 midpoint forecast is achieved there would still be a shortfall on cost recovery revenue,” the DIPAC forecast states. King salmon fishing opportunities have been increasingly restricted as well, with fewer kings returning and more needed to go upstream to meet the requirements of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. The management strategy for Southeast kings is usually announced in the spring. The unknowns: Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet The 2020 salmon forecasts for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet have yet to be published. Prince William Sound saw a harvest of about 2.5 million sockeye, 49.3 million pink salmon and 5.3 million chum salmon in 2019, according to an ADFG season summary. The pink salmon harvest was smaller than the recent five odd-year average and about a quarter less than the forecasted harvest. The Copper River district in particular did well for sockeye, harvesting 1.27 million sockeye, about 28 percent more than the recent 10-year average and with fish clocking in at an average of 5.5 pounds, the largest in the last five years. Some of the reduced harvest may be due to environmental conditions this summer; Prince William Sound, like the rest of Alaska, saw record-high temperatures and record-low rainfall throughout much of July and August. As a result, pink salmon held in the marine waters and could not enter streams with flow too low to swim, and “significant prespawn mortality events were documented throughout PWS,” according to ADFG. Cook Inlet’s forecast will likely come into discussion during the upcoming Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting, scheduled for Feb. 7-19, 2020, in Anchorage. Last year, the sockeye forecast fell slightly short of the projection, but commercial fishermen were restricted from fishing because of concerns about Kenai River king salmon passage, which was too poor to achieve escapement. As a consequence, commercial fishermen lost fishing time, and the Kenai River sockeye salmon goal was exceeded in 2019. Groundfish The North Pacific Fishery Management Council set harvest levels known as total allowable catch, or TAC, for various groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands at its meeting in December, largely going with the recommendations of the Scientific and Statistical Committee. For the Gulf of Alaska, the pollock TAC is down by about 26,000 metric tons from 2019; sablefish are up by about 3,000 metric tons; and shallow-water flatfish are about level, up by about 1,500 metric tons. The major hit in the Gulf of Alaska is for Pacific cod. Due to declining biomass and low recruitments, the federal-waters fishery will close for 2020 in the Gulf. In the state waters in Cook Inlet, the guideline harvest level is set at 454,513 pounds, with 85 percent allocated to pot gear, according to ADFG. Jig gear, which is allocated 15 percent, will open Jan. 1 in Cook Inlet; pot gear will open Feb. 1. In Kodiak, the 2020 guideline harvest level, or GHL, in state-water cod fisheries is set at 1.52 million pounds, split equally between pot and jig gear. In Chignik, the 2020 GHL is set at 1.06 million pounds, with 90 percent allocated to pot gear; in the South Alaska Peninsula state-water fishery, the 2020 GHL is set at 2.12 million pounds, with 85 percent allocated to pots. In the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, the TACs for Pacific cod are also slightly down, but the limit for pollock is up in the Eastern Bering Sea: from 1.39 million metric tons to 1.42 million metric tons. Pollock TACs are level in the Aleutian Islands and Bogoslof. The sablefish TACs are slightly up in both the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. Halibut The 2020 catch limits for Pacific halibut are one of the biggest question marks as 2019 closes. Recent survey data presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission did not offer much hope for fishermen who have been seeing cuts in their fisheries over the past few years as halibut biomass continues to drop. The 2019 annual IPHC meeting brought a reprieve for fishermen, as the commission declined to lower catch limits despite data showing biomass declines in the stock, but this year’s data showed continued declining biomass, particularly in the Gulf of Alaska. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set final 2020 catch limits at its upcoming meeting in February in Anchorage. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed a set of recommendations for ways to reduce the take in the charter fleet to help stay within smaller allocations, but the commercial quotas have yet to be set. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]


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