Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Dept. of Energy looks to seaweed as energy source

Kodiak is at the center of a national push to produce biofuels from seaweeds.

Agents from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, ARPA-E, recently traveled to the island to meet with a team of academics, scientists, businesses and local growers to plan the first steps of a bicoastal pilot project to modernize methods to grow sugar kelp as a fuel source.

The project is bankrolled by a $500,000 grant to the University of Alaska Fairbanks through a new DOE program called Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources, or MARINER.

FISH FACTOR: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Fishing outlooks for some of Alaska’s largest catches are running the gamut from celebratory (salmon) to relief (Bering Sea crab) to catastrophic (cod).

First the bad news.

Stakeholders were stunned to learn that surveys yielded the lowest numbers ever for Pacific cod in the federally managed waters of the Gulf of Alaska, meaning from three to 200 miles offshore.

Seafood.com was the first to report the bad news as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting got underway last week in Anchorage.

FISH FACTOR: No dog days for salmon after record chum return

Chum salmon returned home to Alaska this year in numbers never seen before from Southeast to Kotzebue, and set catch records statewide and in many regions.

Chums, also called dogs because of their long use as a prime food source for Alaska Native dog teams, are the most widely distributed of all Pacific salmon and occur throughout Alaska. The fish usually comprise about 15 percent of the total salmon catch, and this year’s tally of almost 25 million is the biggest harvest since 2000.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood Appreciation Month gets more love outside Alaska

October is National Seafood Month, a distinction bestowed by Congress 30 years ago to recognize one of America’s oldest industries.

Alaska merits special recognition because its fishing fleets provide 65 percent of the nation’s wild caught seafood, more than all of the other states combined.

Ironically, there is little to no fanfare in Alaska during seafood month. My hometown of Kodiak, for example, (the No. 2 U.S. fishing port) never gives a shout out to our fishermen and processors, nor do local restaurants celebrate seafood on their October menus in any way.

FISH FACTOR: Marine convention kicks off in Anchorage

A growing cluster of entrepreneurs is seeding prospects for Alaska’s new “blue economy” and it is attracting interest from around the world.

Marine technology experts are meeting at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage this week as part of the Oceans ’17 conference and the conversations and a competition will continue into October.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest tops forecast

Alaska’s salmon season is nearly a wrap but fall remains as one of the fishing industry’s busiest times of the year.

For salmon, the catch of 213 million has surpassed the forecast by 9 million fish. Highpoints for this season are a statewide sockeye catch topping 50 million for the 10th time in history (37 million from Bristol Bay), and one of the best chum harvests ever at more than 22 million fish.

The total 2017 salmon catches and values by Alaska region will be released by state fishery managers in November.

FISH FACTOR: Sea cucumbers as cancer fighters

Alaska sea cucumber divers could be helping to cure cancer!

Sea cucumber meat and skins have long been considered a delicacy in Asian cuisines; they also are hailed for having healing properties that soothe sore joints and arthritis.

Most recently the soft, tubular bottom dwellers are being added to the list of foods acclaimed to kill cancer cells.

Dried sea cucumber or extract is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and an anti-inflammatory, said Ty Bollinger, a leading cancer expert and author of Cancer: Step Outside the Box.

FISH FACTOR: Bumper salmon hauls around state as season winds down

Alaska’s salmon season is winding down and while catches have made the record books in some regions, the statewide take will fall a bit short of the 204 million fish forecast.

“We are within about 10 percent of the forecast, so that’s very positive and overall it’s been a pretty good season,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The statewide salmon catch through Aug. 25 topped 191 million. The shortfall, Bowers said, again stems from the arrival of fewer pink salmon.

FISH FACTOR: Weaker dollar boosts export value of state seafood

The U.S. dollar has dropped in value all year against a basket of other global currencies.

While that may sound like a bad thing, it’s great news for Alaska seafood and anyone doing business overseas.

“It’s a good thing for Alaska seafood producers because roughly two-thirds of the value of our seafood comes from export markets. So when our currency is less valuable, the prices are not as high for foreign buyers,” said Andy Wink, senior fisheries economist with the McDowell Group.

FISH FACTOR: Alaskan seafood has opening in home meal kits

Alaska aims to get in on the growing popularity of Home Meal kits that will deliver seafood directly to American kitchens.

The kits typically offer a subscription service where customers order weekly meals based on how many people they plan to feed and their food preferences. The kits include portioned, high quality ingredients with foolproof cooking instructions and can be delivered within hours or overnight to nearly all locations. Many grocery stores also are providing in-store options that don’t involve delivery.

FISH FACTOR: Fishing deaths renew reminders for safety measures

“It’s time for a checkup from the neck up” — meaning an industry time out to evaluate fishing operations and behaviors, advises Jerry Dzugan, the director of the Sitka-based Alaska Marine Safety Education Association for more than 30 years.

Dzugan was speaking in response to the 11 fishing deaths that have occurred in Alaska so far this year. It’s the most in 13 years and follows a 76 percent decrease in commercial fishing fatalities since the 1980s.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI keeps up export push on shoestring budget

Seafood is Alaska’s top export by far, usually topping $3 billion in sales each year to 120 countries around the world, and comprising 55 percent of our nation’s total seafood exports.

Credit for the state’s export sales goes mostly to the international program run by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, which runs eight regional offices in Japan, China, Brazil, London, Spain, France, Germany and Eastern Europe.

The overseas marketing reps, or OMRs, work under contract with ASMI to coordinate hundreds of seafood promotions each year to build the Alaska brand.

FISH FACTOR: UFA getting message out through tech; ‘Frankenfish’ sales loom

As state lawmakers mull ways to update permitting laws to protect salmon habitat, a dual sweepstakes is using text messaging and social media as the means to keep more fishermen informed.

“One of the things we’ve learned over the past two years is that most fishermen are getting almost all of their information on their phones,” said Lindsey Bloom, program manager for United Fishermen of Alaska’s Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon surge to Bay as prices rebound

As predicted, Alaska fishermen are getting higher prices for their salmon this year.

It’s good news following a 2016 season that saw lackluster catches in all regions but Bristol Bay, a failure of pink salmon runs, and paltry paychecks nearly across the board.

Prices paid to Alaska salmon fishermen depend on the region, the species, the type of fishing gear and, most importantly, global market conditions. Salmon prices also reflect bonuses for iced fish, dock deliveries and other agreements between a buyer and seller.

FISH FACTOR: Robotic technology emerging as tool for fish processing

Robots are cutting up snow crabs in Canada in a sign of things to come in the seafood processing industry.

Overall, seafood processing has a relatively small robotic involvement compared to other sectors. Robots have yet to make it into any of Alaska’s 176 fish processing shops, but the lure of reduced production costs, increased fish quality and crews of worker-bots is turning the tide.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon spawn unusual research

Salmon skin, heads, bones and other body parts have long been popular in cultural usages around the world. Now add salmon sperm to the list of desirable byproducts being hailed by specialists in two diverse realms of research.

A team of Japanese researchers is calling dried salmon sperm a miracle product for its ability to extract rare earth elements, or REEs, from ore.

FISH FACTOR: China poised to snap up even more Alaska seafood

China holds big promise to become a top customer for Alaska salmon, and not just for the bright red fillets.

Since 2011 China has been the No. 1 customer for Alaska seafood with purchases nearing $800 million and comprising 54 percent of all Alaska exports to China.

In Chinese food culture, fish symbolizes abundance and prosperity, which plays into a growing middle class that now earns the equivalent of about $25,000 in U.S. dollars a year.

FISH FACTOR: Government shutdown would slam salmon fisheries

Want a fishing license to crew on a salmon boat this summer? Got friends or family visiting who want to wet a line for a prized Alaska catch? Don’t count on it.

If the Alaska Legislature continues to defy its constitutional obligation to pass a budget, those opportunities will be lost because there won’t be any state workers to issue fishing licenses. Layoff notices went out on June 1 to thousands of state employees who will be off the job at the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry gains momentum

Homegrown shellfish and kelp are gaining momentum in Alaska, spurred on by growing markets and the steadfast push by Gov. Bill Walker’s visionary mariculture task force.

Applications for more than 1,000 acres of oyster and kelp farms were filed with the Department of Natural Resources by the April 30 deadline, far more than usual.

Fifteen are for new farms in the Southeast, Southcentral and Westward regions of which seven plan to grow kelp exclusively. Two farms at Klawok also are adding kelp to their current oyster growing operations.

FISH FACTOR: Trump budget dumps NOAA funding

The 2018 budget unveiled on May 23 by the Trump Administration is bad news for anything that swims in or near U.S. waters.

At a glance: the Trump budget will cut $1.5 billion from the U.S. Commerce Department, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, taking the hardest hit.

The NOAA budget for its National Marine Fisheries Service operations, research and facilities would be slashed by about $43 million. It would eliminate NOAA’s coastal research programs and the Sea Grant program.

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