Salmon abundance in the North Pacific has declined slightly over the past decade, but salmon catches remain near all-time highs.
For nearly 30 years the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its five member countries: Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. The Commission tracks all salmon species caught in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also provides the venue for coordinating research and enforcement activities.
For 2018, the total salmon catch topped 1 million metric tons, or more than 651 million fish, the highest catch ever for an even-numbered year. That’s nearly 200 million more salmon than were caught in 2017.
Russia led all other nations for salmon catches in 2018, taking 63 percent, or 676,200 mt. The U.S. ranked second for salmon catches at 27 percent at nearly 287,000 mt, with Alaska taking all but 8,700 mt of the total U.S. catch. The other three nations all were in single digits for salmon catches.
Pink salmon made up 55 percent of the North Pacific catches by weight, followed by chums at 26 percent and sockeyes at 16 percent. Cohos comprised just 2 percent of the total salmon catch and Chinook was less than 1 percent.
Hatchery releases from the five countries have been fairly stable since 1993 at about 5 billion fish released annually.
The U.S. accounted for 44 percent of total hatchery salmon releases last year, mostly coming from Alaska. That was followed by Japan at 34 percent, Russia at 17 percent and 5 percent from Canada.
Chum salmon made up 59 percent of all hatchery releases with pink salmon at 29 percent. Chinook salmon made up 5 percent, sockeyes at 4 percent and coho salmon at 2 percent of hatchery releases.
The commission said variability in annual North Pacific salmon catches has been more pronounced during the past decade, primarily due to unpredictable pinks.
A particularly low pink salmon catch in 2018 (71,300 mt) resulted in the lowest total North American catches of salmon in 40 years.
Nature bites Norway
Global salmon markets are getting shuffled by a massive algae bloom that has suffocated more than 8 million farmed salmon in Norway with no end in sight. Norway is the world’s largest farmed salmon producer and its supply numbers can set the mark for fish prices around the world.
The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries estimated the salmon loss so far at more than 25.5 million pounds of Atlantic salmon valued at more than $82 million.
That would still amount to less than 1 percent of the industry’s output last year, when Norway produced nearly 1.3 million metric tons (nearly 3 billion pounds) of salmon, according to the New York Times. (That compares to Alaska’s catch of more than 605 million pounds of salmon.)
“The algae has a chemical composition that affects the membranes of the cells in the gills and they are destroyed, so the fish actually dies due to lack of oxygen,” said Lars-Johan Naustvoll, a biologist at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research.
Though the algae bloom is a natural event, fish growers said it is rare for it to be so concentrated and so lethal. Salmon farms are especially at risk since the salmon held captive in large net pens can’t swim away from it. Most blame an off kilter climate and warming oceans for the killer algae event.
More salmon challenges
The makers of genetically modified salmon are embracing the “Frankenfish” name, saying it’s much like the Frankenstein monster in the book written by Mary Shelley in 1817.
Undercurrent News reports that Sylvia Wulf, CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, said: “It was the uneducated mob that didn’t understand the benefits of the science that killed Frankenstein. Let’s applaud the Frankenfish, because it’s designed to solve real-world global challenges.”
Wulf was speaking at a Recirculating Aquaculture System Technology conference last week in Washington, D.C.
In March, the Food and Drug Administration removed a three-year-old import alert that prevented AquaBounty from importing eggs from a Panama facility for grow out and sale in the U.S. With that regulatory barrier gone, the company is now gearing up to go to market.
A first batch of eggs is on its way to a growing facility in Indiana with a goal of sending thousands of 8- to 11-pound genetically tweaked Atlantic salmon to supermarkets next fall. The fish is altered to grow three times faster than normal salmon.
AquaBounty tested its fish in Canada in 2017 and 2018 and each time it sold out within a few days, the company said. The fish were not labeled as genetically modified, as Canada does not have a labeling requirement.
By law, U.S. companies have until 2020 to begin labeling foods that contain 80 percent or more genetically engineered materials with a mandatory compliance date of Jan. 1, 2022.
But it will fall to customers to find out on their own, as labels may be a symbol, a digital link, text message, phone number or web site.
AquaBounty called the labeling requirement “good news” saying that the market will be awash in so many bioengineered products, customers won’t focus on their fish.
Nearly 2 million Americans opposed the FDA’s approval of Frankenfish and 60 major grocery chains pledged not to sell it, including Safeway, Kroger, Target and Whole Foods.
In a touch of irony, Wulf said AquaBounty plans to expand sales to China and South America, but has no plans to pitch Frankenfish to Europe because of “their anti-genetically modified leanings.”
Seafood minus the sea
Wild fish, farmed fish, Frankenfish — get ready for seafood grown directly from cells — with no head, tail, bones or blood.
National Public Radio calls it “fish without the swimming and breathing part. It’s seafood without the sea.”
In fact, it is whole fillets grown from a needle biopsy’s worth of muscle cells from a single fish. The cells are cultivated and fed a blend of liquid vitamins, amino acids and sugars. The resulting fillets can be sold fresh or frozen or made into various seafood dishes.
A San Diego based company called BlueNalu is pioneering the cellular aquaculture as one of six companies focused on growing cell-based seafood. Finless Foods, for example, is focused on blue fin tuna; a company called Wild Type is working on salmon. All are likely five to 10 years away from having actual product on the market.
The companies point out cell-growing uses no genetic tweaking, nor does it introduce anything new that doesn’t already exist in nature. They claim they’re not looking to replace wild or farm-raised seafood, and instead offer a third alternative.
But the fledgling industry is poking at some tender industry spots: illegal and overfishing, climate impacts, bycatch and food waste. They note that cell-grown seafood is free from antibiotics and pesticides used in fish farms, potential ocean contaminants and micro particles of plastics.
Referring to the more than 3.2 billion people globally who depend on seafood for at least part of their protein, a BlueNalu spokesman said “Catch, grow or make it, I’m not even sure we’ll be able to meet demand.”
Alaska fish keeps Seattle afloat
If not for Alaska’s fisheries, the Port of Seattle would be a shadow of what it is today.
An economic report released in May reveals that Seattle is home port to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their living in Alaska. The Seattle-based boats harvest Alaska pollock, Bering Sea crab, flounders, salmon and many other high value species, and they vary in size from huge catcher-processors with 150 crew to small seiners and trawlers.
In 2017, vessels that moored at one of Seattle’s three terminals and operated in the Alaska fisheries generated gross earnings of more than $455 million, nearly half of the total gross earnings from those fisheries. Boats fishing in Puget Sound and other Washington areas earned $26.6 million at the Seattle docks.
An estimated 7,200 jobs were directly associated with commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle in 2017. Of those jobs, 5,100 were on fishing vessels, and all but 200 operated in Alaska fisheries.
Additional revenues to the port came from various support services, staff and on-shore port tenants, including seafood processing and cold storage facilities.
Factoring in all segments of commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle, fishing activities generated more than $671 million in business output in 2017. It also produced more than $13 million in state of Washington taxes.
Between 2011 and 2017, Port of Seattle customers harvested between 800,000 and 1.3 million metric tons of seafood from the North Pacific fisheries. Harvested tonnage increased by more than 500 percent over this period, or approximately 23 percent per year, based on a compound annual growth rate.
Factoring in indirect and induced impacts, the total statewide economic impact of commercial fishing operations to the Port of Seattle accounted for 11,300 jobs, $543 million in labor income and over $1.4 billion in business output in 2017.
Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected]