Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Researchers seek signs of recovery for Pacific cod

Tiny cod fish are reappearing around Kodiak. Researchers aim to find out if it is a blip, or a sign that the stock is recovering after warming waters caused the stocks to crash. Alaska’s seafood industry was shocked last fall when the annual surveys showed cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska had plummeted by 80 percent to the lowest levels ever seen. Prior surveys indicated large year classes of cod starting in 2012 were expected to produce good fishing for six or more years. But a so-called “blob” of warm water depleted food supplies and wiped out that recruitment. “That warm water was sitting in the Gulf for three years starting in 2014 and it was different than other years in that it went really deep and it also lasted throughout the winter. You can deplete the food source pretty rapidly when the entire ecosystem is ramped up in those warm temperatures,” explained Steven Barbeaux with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, or AFSC, in Seattle. This summer, researchers at Kodiak saw the first signs of potential recovery with beach seine catches of tiny first year cod that are born offshore and drift as larvae into coastal grassy areas in July and August. “A lot can happen in that first year of life that we would like to learn more about to predict whether or not these year classes are actually going to survive,” said Ben Laurel, a fisheries research biologist with the AFSC based in Newport, Ore., whose specialty is early survival of cold water commercial fish species. Laurel’s team, which includes scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has been studying the early life history of Pacific cod in waters around Kodiak every year since 2005. They documented changes in what he calls “young of the year” fish throughout the warm water event through 2016. Right afterwards, they saw no first-year cod but Laurel said things might be taking a turn for the better. “In 2017 the ocean temperatures started to get back to normal and we did see signs of some fish, which is good because we hadn’t seen fish earlier,” he said. “In 2018 we also are seeing some young fish. But again, we’re just looking at one year in one area and it might not be reflective throughout the Gulf, so we are not sure what it means.” Laurel is taking the tiny cod back to the Oregon wet lab where they will run tests on survival conditions. “Do they have the likelihood of making it to adulthood just like those fish before the warm water blob? We just don’t know,” he explained. “We don’t have much data on cod during the winter and we can fill that gap in the lab. We can run them through a simulated over winter experience at different temperatures and see what the consequences are of them being a certain size or having certain food available, or what sort of conditions do they need to survive a whole overwintering experience.” The cod study this summer also is expanding to more nearshore areas of Kodiak, along the Alaska Peninsula and the eastern Gulf. Laurel credited the AFSC with “really responsive reactions to this drastic reduction in the population,” and adding “more eyes and effort” to understand what happened to the cod stocks. The research, he said, will provide a window into what might be expected with a changing climate. “It is kind of a dress rehearsal for what is to come,” he said. “We can’t expect things to stay as they are, and we need to understand these processes and be proactive. I’m encouraged but also nervous about what’s in line for the future. Everybody should be braced for uncertainty.” Net hack challenge An Alaska Net Hack Challenge is being planned for Sept. 8 and 9 in Kodiak and Anchorage. The goal is to identify potential opportunities for using the tons of old plastic fishing nets piled up in landfills and storage lots across the state, and develop new items from the materials. The nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each. The challenge is based on the Circular Ocean program in the U.K. and Iceland that “aims to inspire enterprises and entrepreneurs to realize the hidden opportunities in discarded fishing nets.” The Alaska hack is sponsored by Grundens, Alpar and Saltwater Inc. “The goal is to change how people look at nets and ropes, not as a waste material but as a raw material that can be used in many ways,” said Nicole Baker, founder of www.netyourproblem.com and organizer of the event along with the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative. “Socks, water bottles, cell phone cases, carpets, bathing suits, sneakers, sunglasses, skateboards, rugs, bowls, frisbees, even 3-D printing and injection molds. People are becoming so creative about finding ways to reuse these plastic products,” Baker said. The Alaska challenge is aimed at artists, students, designers, business owners, engineers, recyclers and anyone interested in designing new products out of the materials. “On the first day of the challenge we will show presentations about the context and scale of the issue, the type of materials available, and some businesses that have been implemented already,” she explained. “On the second day, teams will get together and use the material and design a prototype, either physically or on a computer, that will be presented to judges to get their feedback.” A video link will connect the two locations and judges will score the projects on creativity, usefulness and scalability and follow the development over six months. “That will be supported by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative which has several programs to assist with making small businesses and startups commercially viable,” Baker said. “If Alaska gets on board, it could be another revenue stream,” added Brian Himelbloom, a retired University of Alaska seafood specialist who is organizing the Kodiak net hack challenge with an assist by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “There are a lot of creative people in Kodiak,” he added, pointing to the Alaska Rug Company that uses fishing nets and ropes to make handwoven doormats, pot holders, baskets, bowls, signs, and more at their remote home at the decommissioned Port Bailey Cannery. The company was recently featured in HGTV magazine. Himelbloom said the groups also will reach out to local schools to attract “youngsters who are thinking about going into business.” They also are creating a net hack tool kit for remote communities interested in having their own challenges. The events will take place at the Makerspace Building in Anchorage and at the Kodiak Marine Science Center. Visit www.alaskaoceancluster.com to register to attend. Meanwhile, Nicole Baker also will be in Kodiak in late August to coordinate a fishing net recycling program. It will mirror a first effort last year in Dutch Harbor that sent 40 nets weighing 240,000 pounds to a company called Plastix in Denmark where they were melted down, pelletized and resold to manufacturers of plastic products. A second shipment also is being planned at Dutch Harbor and Baker said she also has been contacted by people in Juneau, Homer, Seward and other Alaska communities who want to develop net recycling programs. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge and the recycling program have attracted the attention of Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “It was my first letter from a senator’s office,” Baker said. “I was very excited.” Fish watch Alaska’s total salmon catch has topped 88 million fish: more than 48 million are sockeyes and nearly 42 million of the reds are from Bristol Bay. Fishing is winding down there but lots of salmon is still being hauled in elsewhere, albeit slowly in most regions. The Dungeness fishery in Southeast is ongoing with a summer harvest pegged at 2.25 million pounds. Golden king crab opened along the Aleutians on Aug. 1 with a 6.3 million-pound harvest, an increase of nearly 1 million pounds for the first time in 20 years. Halibut fishermen have taken 56 percent of their nearly 20 million-pound catch limit. For sablefish, 47 percent of the nearly 26 million-pound quota has been taken. Both fisheries close Nov. 7. Fishing for cod, rockfish, flounders, pollock and other whitefish continues in the Bering Sea; likewise, in the Gulf where pollock fishing will reopen on Aug. 25. The Alaska Board of Fisheries has set an Aug. 15 deadline to receive agenda change requests for its upcoming meeting cycle. The board will take up fisheries at Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, the Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim, Aleutian Islands and Chignik from November through March. A special two-day meeting on Pacific cod takes place in early October. Finally, more genetically modified Atlantic salmon grown in Panama has made its way to undisclosed markets. Last summer, Massachusetts-based biotech firm AquaBounty sold its first five tons of “Frankenfish” to undisclosed Canadian customers. The manmade fish grows three times faster than normal salmon. AquaBounty received FDA approval this year to raise its AquAdvantage salmon at its new land-based Indiana facility, but is currently prevented from importing its genetically tweaked salmon eggs from Canada due to an “Import Alert” pending the issuance of final labeling guidelines. “We anticipate the import alert to be lifted in the second half of this year,” CEO Ronald Stotish said in a press release. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Year of the Salmon features major Gulf study

Alaskans celebrated Alaska Wild Salmon Day on Aug. 10, but plans also are underway for a much bigger celebration: the International Year of the Salmon set to officially begin in 2019. The theme is “Salmon and people in a changing world” and a key focus will be a winter salmon study in the deepest regions of the Gulf of Alaska. Both are sponsored in part by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, which for 25 years has promoted research collaboration among scientists in its five member countries of Canada, Russia, Japan, Korea and the U.S. “The main inspiration for development of this project is our awareness of the challenges salmon meet in the open ocean related to the climate and in the coastal areas,” said Dr. Vladimir Radchenko, commission director and one of the world’s leading salmon scientists. A primary goal of Year of the Salmon is to get more people involved in protecting salmon and “coastal societies.” The aim of the Gulf project, Radchenko said, is to better understand the ocean phase of the salmon life cycle. Doing so would improve knowledge to help forecast salmon abundance and carrying capacity of the North Pacific. Researchers have some fragmented understanding of salmon distribution in the deep Gulf area from several surveys starting in the late 1980s. But the surveys were small and the results contradictory, Radchenko said. The project set for next winter will be done with trawl gear and cover a vast area in international waters 200 miles from shore. “During the winter, all salmon species migrate off shore and we have compared patterns of distribution seen in previous surveys and found that the main spots of salmon aggregation should be located beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone in February and March,” Radchenko explained. He added: “It will be a deep survey at about 72 trawl stations and include oceanographic testing of temperature and concentrations of all physical and chemical elements as well as plankton cages so we will have information on the whole ecosystem. We also will take scale samples to determine the salmon origins.” Based on the survey results Radchenko said researchers “may conclude the current state of the salmon stocks which spend the winter in the Gulf of Alaska.” He said scientists in all countries believe that major salmon stocks are facing challenges from the impacts of climate change, especially in southern areas of the North Pacific where warming water circulation patterns are wreaking havoc with salmon food sources. “The warming could make some ocean waters unsuitable for salmon. It is one of the biggest climate changes problems evident now, maybe more important than ocean acidification,” he added. The 2019 winter survey will include scientists from all member countries and is set to be the first of many, depending on funds. Blue updates Alaska lays claim to over half of the nation’s coastline, nearly two-thirds of its seafood catches and more ocean than any other region. But Alaska’s economic output accounts for only about four percent of the U.S. ocean economy. The Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, or OCI, aims to create a more diversified and resilient “blue economy” by getting more value from our oceans. “Globally the oceans are being viewed as the last economic frontier and there is a big push to develop them. Our hope is that Alaska becomes a leader in this blue economy and sustainable development of our ocean resources,” said Joel Cladouhos, director of the OCI, which began a year ago in partnership with the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. The concept is modeled after a program used in Iceland since the 1970s that seeds an “economic ecosystem” of industry, academics, business and government to create a blue growth strategy. Cladouhos believes it is a good fit for Alaska’s well-developed marine infrastructure and can build upon many programs and projects that already exist, such as the Alaska Maritime Workforce Initiative and statewide expansion of mariculture. Blue startups can run the maritime gamut for businesses in or around the ocean, including coastal tourism, marine transportation and emerging sectors such as marine biotechnology and ocean technology. A blue economy also could help provide year-round employment in Alaska’s 200 coastal communities. The OCI believes going blue can provide 50,000 jobs and a $3 billion dollar payroll by the year 2040, making it as significant as the oil industry is today. “Oil has provided incredible economic impact in Alaska and we would not be where we are today without it,” Cladouhos said. “But we want the conversation to be around pipelines of innovation and entrepreneurship in the future. And that would drive economic benefit and job growth that is larger than the oil industry today.” The biggest roadblock, the OCI believes, stems from Alaska’s business model. Since the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867, the approach has been to extract natural resources and export the raw materials out of the state. That commodity-driven extraction model produces boom and bust cycles. The solution is to build a new, forward looking economy that creates value from our natural resources in a way that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. The Ocean Cluster has launched several programs over the past year to enhance the Blue Economy mindset among Alaskans. Ocean Tuesdays are one-hour weekly webinars on a wide range of topics. Two-day Blue Storm workshops are customized to local areas. A virtual Blue Pipeline Incubator advises ocean based startups and so far has attracted several companies ranging from smokehouses to net hangers to fish fertilizers to vessel inspections using drones. A six-week Google Ocean Technology team event attracted nearly Alaska 30 sponsors. The OCI will use a $391,000 federal grant from the economic development administration to do outreach to more entrepreneurs. “We want to expand in Alaska,” Cladouhos said. “Anyone can reach out to us and we can start to move forward with developing their ideas.” Questions? Contact [email protected]/ More tariffs and eyes on endangered species President Donald Trump announced on Aug. 1 that he is escalating his trade war with plans to increase the tariff on Chinese exports to the U.S. from 10 percent to 25 percent. (That is in addition to the 25 percent tariff on U.S. goods being sent to China that went into effect on July 6.) The list of goods affected includes nearly every U.S. seafood product. In terms of a bailout similar to that being proposed for farmers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates an aid package for the commercial fishing and processing industry would cost more than $1 billion to offset the impact of trade taxes to their businesses. Public comments can be made the U.S. Trade Office through Sept. 5. Also on the federal docket: Trump and his team have turned their eyes to scaling back protections in the Endangered Species Act. Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed changes to the way species are listed or removed from protections, and how critical habitat designations are made. New language also would allow officials for the first time to consider the economic consequences of listing a species. The New York Times called it “the most sweeping set of changes in decades” to the regulations used to enforce the act. Comments on proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act can be made through Sept. 24 at www.regulations.gov. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Women in the seafood work place report discrimination

Alaska appears to be an exception in terms of gender parity at all levels of its seafood industry. Women comprise roughly half of the world’s seafood industry workforce, yet a report released last week revealed that 61 percent of women around the globe feel they face unfair gender biases from slime lines to businesses to company boardrooms. The women’s overall responses cited biases in recruitment and hiring, in working conditions and inflexible scheduling. The findings were based on 700 responses gathered in an online survey from September through December of last year. Thirty percent of the respondents were men; 27 percent of the total responses came from North America. In my view, Alaska doesn’t fit the picture. Based on “empirical evidence” spanning 30 years as a fisheries writer, I always have encountered women at all levels of seafood harvesting and processing, business, management, education and research, as agency heads and commissioners and in top directorships in industry trade groups and organizations. While women may be outnumbered by men in the state’s seafood industry overall, they are highly visible and valued throughout the workforce hierarchy. Maybe Alaska’s small population levels the playing field and smart, talented women are not so easily overlooked. But that’s clearly not the case elsewhere. In the survey, 33 percent of women said they have faced discrimination at work; 49 percent said there are unequal opportunities for men and women; 12 percent of women cited sexual harassment. One striking finding of the gender equality in the seafood industry report was that women and men have very different perceptions of the problem. Fewer than half of the men surveyed said that they believe women face biases throughout the industry. “Less than one men in 10 consider women are facing discrimination. It is important to see that men and women do not share the same diagnosis. If it is not shared, things cannot change,” said Marie Catherine Montfort, report co-author and CEO of the international group Women in the Seafood Industry. Many women said they are not given incentives to join the seafood industry, especially at school levels. An interesting view shared by 80 percent of both genders was that the industry holds little appeal for women. “This is probably the only shared response — that both believe the industry is not attractive to women. I think this question should be asked by seafood companies and all stakeholders in this industry,” Montfort said, adding “that likely explains the 83 percent (71 percent men) who said the seafood industry has a lack of female candidates for jobs.” The WSI survey also revealed that the seafood industry puts more focus on racial diversity than gender equality. Scandinavian countries got the highest marks for perceptions of gender equality at 58 percent; North America totaled 33 percent. Recognizing and raising the awareness of biases against women is the first step towards making positive changes, Montfort said, and the report findings can “open routes to progress.” “It can identify barriers to gender equality and identify good practices,” she said. To help draw attention to the issue, WSI has launched a short video contest to showcase women working in all areas of the seafood industry. The winner will receive 1,000 Euros ($1,165 US) and get wide play at fishery events around the world. Deadline is Aug. 31. Contact [email protected] Prices high/catches low Salmon prices are starting to trickle in as more sales are firmed up by local buyers, and early signs point to good paydays across the board. At Bristol Bay last week, Trident, Ocean Beauty and Togiak Seafoods posted a base price of $1.25 per pound for sockeye, according to KDLG in Dillingham. Trident also was paying a 15-cent bonus for reds that are chilled and bled, and the others may follow suit. Copper River Seafoods raised its sockeye price from $1.30 to $1.70 for fish that is chilled/bled and sorted. That company also reportedly is paying 80 cents per pound for coho salmon and 45 cents per pound for chums and pinks. The average base price last year for Bristol Bay sockeye was $1.02 per pound, 65 cents for cohos, 30 cents for chums and 18 cents for pinks. Kodiak advances were reported at $1.60 for sockeye, 55 cents for chums and 40 cents for pinks. That compares to average prices of $1.38 for sockeyes, 40 cents for chums and 31 cents for Kodiak pinks in 2017. At Prince William Sound a sockeye base price was reported at $1.95 and chums at 95 cents. At Norton Sound the single buyer was advancing 80 cents per pound for chums and $1.40 for cohos, same as last year, and 25 cents for pinks, an increase of 22 cents. Salmon fishermen at Kotzebue were getting 40 cents for chums, down from 48 cents, but that price is expected to increase when a third buyer comes on line. The weekly summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that Southeast trollers were averaging $8.48 per pound for chinook salmon, an increase of $1.15 over last year. Troll-caught cohos were at $1.64, a 16-cent increase and chums were paying out at 90 cents, up 13 cents from 2017. All prices are likely to change when more sales are made in coming months. Alaska’s total salmon catches are still down by one-third compared with the statewide harvest topping 70 million fish by July 27. Nearly 42 million of the salmon were sockeye from Bristol Bay. Seafood slight As President Donald Trump prepares to offer U.S. farmers $12 billion in aid to help compensate for losses caused by trade scuffles with China, Democrats in Congress have put forth a plan to help fishermen. House Resolution 6528 was introduced July 25 by Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton. It aims to add language to the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Act that disaster relief funds can also be used in the case of “unilateral tariffs imposed by other countries on any United States seafood.” Co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Chellie Pingree of Maine, Stephen Lynch and William Keating of Massachusetts, Jared Huffman of California and Raul Grijalva of Arizona. Fishermen “don’t deserve to be victims of this self-imposed trade war,” Pingree said at a hearing last week. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also are being outspoken in their support of fishermen. But the snub to U.S. farmers of the sea isn’t likely to change. When U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was asked if Trump is considering providing other sectors assistance similar to the $12 billion taxpayer funded hand out to the agriculture sector, he replied, “Not at this time. No.” There have been two major trade actions with China that affect Alaska seafood. On July 6, China implemented a retaliatory tariff of 25 percent on U.S. seafood sent to the Chinese domestic market. China purchases 54 percent of Alaska’s seafood exports, valued at $1.3 billion in 2017. Then on July 10 Trump escalated his trade war by proposing an additional 10 percent tariff on seafood exported from China to the U.S. It includes $2.7 billion in American-caught seafood, mostly from Alaska, that is reprocessed in China into fillets and breaded portions and sent back to the U.S. for distribution. That tax is scheduled to go into effect in early September. In the short term, the Alaska seafood industry may see greater impact from that tariff, according to Alexa Tonkovich, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI plans to comment on the proposed tariff to trade representatives before the Aug. 17 deadline. “We encourage other industry members that will be affected by these tariffs to also comment and voice concern,” Tonkvich said in a statement. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

State officials cite costs, complications of initiative

State agency officials attempted to predict the impacts to the state of a pending fish habitat ballot measure during a July 20 Senate State Affairs Committee hearing. Ballot Measure 1, known as the “Yes for Salmon” initiative, would bolster the Department of Fish and Game’s statutory requirements for approving development activity permits in anadromous fish habitat areas as well as the department’s authority to enforce the stipulations of those permits. Championed by the Anchorage-based nonprofit Stand for Salmon, the initiative is scheduled to be on the general election ballot in November depending on the outcome of an Alaska Supreme Court ruling to determine its constitutionality. Gov. Bill Walker’s administration has argued that the measure is an unconstitutional usurpation of the Legislature’s authority to appropriate resources. The court is expected to rule on the constitutional question by early September to provide the Division of Elections time to prepare accurate materials for voters. On a high level Ballot Measure 1 would establish two tiers of permit application reviews. “Minor” habitat permits could be issued quickly and generally for projects deemed to have an insignificant impact on salmon waters. “Major” permits for larger projects such as mines, dams and anything determined to potentially have a significant impact on salmon-bearing waters would require the project sponsor to prove the project would not damage salmon habitat. Additionally, the project sponsor would have to prove that impacted waters are not salmon habitat during any stage of the fish life cycle if the waters are connected to proven salmon habitat in any way but not yet listed in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog. The initiative also states that mitigation measures to offset the impact at the development site may not be done by enhancing or preserving habitat on other waters, which is a practice allowed now and is what’s proposed for the Donlin mine project. On one level, Ballot Measure 1 would cost the state about $3 million per year in the near term to implement its changes, according to estimates in an Office of Management and Budget report. Not surprisingly, much of that would be in Fish and Game’s budget for developing updated regulations and guidance documents. ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten said it would likely cost the department $1.3 million per year over five years to implement the law changes. The Department of Transportation, which is one of the most frequent applicants for fish habitat permits, would need another roughly $950,000 per year to comply with the more stringent fish habitat requirements, according to department leaders. The departments of Environmental Conservation and Law would each need up to an additional $450,000 per year to possibly broaden water quality standards currently required for discharges in fish spawning areas and enforcing new civil penalties for violating fish habitat permit terms. DOT Environmental Program Manager Ben White said the department would need to add a handful of hydrologists and hydraulic engineers to its current environmental permitting team. “We are committed to environmental stewardship as a department and really work very hard, in this particular instance, to support healthy salmon populations,” DOT Commissioner Marc Luiken said to the committee. While projecting fiscal impacts is an exercise agency staff are accustomed to — it is done for the majority of proposed legislation — the Republicans on the committee in opposition to the initiative posed increasingly speculative scenarios they are concerned about the initiative impacting while questioning administration officials. Walker, who is running for reelection, has expressed his opposition to Ballot Measure 1 as a policy while the Department of Law is challenging its constitutionality. At the same time, Civil Law Division Director Joanne Grace said the Department of Law has advised Walker’s commissioner’s to remain objective on the initiative. Emily Anderson, an attorney for Stand for Salmon, said the discussion in the hearing was premature because agency officials were asked to outline the impacts of the potential law change before the Supreme Court, which could also amend the initiative, has made its decision. Rather than wholly approving or rejecting the initiative, the Supreme Court could strike specific provisions of the proposal it feels are unconstitutional and allow the remainder of it to appear on the ballot if the general intent of the sponsors remains intact. Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, asked if language in the initiative that would extend fish habitat permit reviews into the riparian area near the shoreline of a water body could be used to preclude development in entire floodplains, such as the one his hometown is built on. Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, questioned whether fire departments could be prevented from filling their tanker trucks from salmon streams and if DOT would not be allowed to use rip-rap when dealing with emergency flood and erosion situations that can occur, particularly along Alaska’s large glacial rivers. Agency officials largely obliged the speculation, acknowledging there is a possibility the circumstances raised could be impacted because of the vague language of the initiative. DOT’s White said the agency could be forced to find alternatives to traditional rock rip-rap for erosion control and that temporary stream diversions — often used in culvert and bridge work — could be challenged. Habitat Division Biologist Ron Benkert said in an interview that Fish and Game already discourages the use of rock rip-rap when other bioengineered solutions such as root wads or other forms of woody vegetation can be used for erosion control, noting that in the most critical areas and emergency situations the department concedes to the use of rip-rap at the request of DOT and others. He also said large, fast rivers such as the Matanuska that regularly cause significant damage are primarily migration corridors for salmon and other species that use headwaters and tributaries for spawning and rearing, so the impact of bank stabilization efforts to critical habitat is limited most times. “Really high velocity — it’s just not a great place for fish to hang out,” Benkert said. Anderson said the initiative makes no changes to the ability for officials to respond to emergencies. She stressed in response to other concerns about the purview of the habitat permits that the initiative is limited to freshwater, as is the case today. Anderson said during an editorial board meeting with the Journal and Anchorage Daily News on July 19 that the initiative is primarily aimed at solidifying scientific best practices and guidelines Fish and Game currently uses in regulation and law to insulate the permitting process from political influence. Initiative sponsor and commercial fishermen Mike Wood has said the objective of the campaign is to fortify the state’s fish protections while the Environmental Protection Agency is scaling back its wetlands protections in the state, for example. Currently, Title 16, the state’s anadromous fish habitat permitting statute, directs the ADFG commissioner to issue a development permit as long as a project provides “proper protection of fish and game.” The initiative sponsors contend that is far too vague and an update is needed to just define what “proper protection” means. In early 2017, Alaska Board of Fisheries chair John Jensen sent a letter to legislative leaders urging them to update Title 16 with opportunities for public involvement in permit application reviews and enforceable development standards. The law now does not allow for public comment nor does it require Fish and Game to issue a public notice indicating the Habitat Division is adjudicating a permit application. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly also unanimously passed a resolution in 2016 supporting an update to Title 16 to further protect fish habitat. DNR Project Management Associate Director Kyle Moselle said in response to questions that the vast majority of the permits DNR and DEC issue for large development projects already require public notice and comment periods, which would be a fundamental addition to the anadromous fish habitat permit process under the proposal. Giessel said in an email that the public should be included in matters involving public resources and that is why the comment periods and notices are required for other land and water use and quality permits. “If the issue surrounding this initiative is one of requiring an opportunity for Alaskans to comment and be involved on fish habitat permits, that is one matter. But proposing an up or down, take it or leave it, wholesale rewrite of our fish laws in November is another thing altogether,” Giessel said. It was also unclear from the hearing when existing developments with fish habitat permits already in hand would be subject to the new permitting system. Benkert said in an interview that while the department feels this is a “gray area” in the law, generally an existing operation would be grandfathered in until additional authorizations are needed for expansion plans or a fish habitat permit renewal. Most fish habitat permits are valid for two- to five-year periods before they need to be renewed. “It’s kind of a check so we can just come back and see if what we had permitted five years ago is still actually being done,” Benkert described. Stand for Salmon’s Anderson said worries about renewing permits for existing facilities “have been blown out of proportion” and re-upping authorizations should not be more difficult under the initiative. “There’s a whole class of facilities that never had a fish habitat permit and won’t require one; (they) are not only not affected by this but never will be affected by this,” she said. “Then there’s a whole class of facilities that did require a fish habitat permit but that habitat is no longer in existence, therefore you don’t need a new fish habitat permit and it never will be contemplated because there is no fish habitat left to get a new permit for.” White also said DOT is concerned the initiative could lead to more National Environmental Policy Act reviews for work now deemed to have a de minimis environmental impact because it prohibits Fish and Game from allowing activities that have a “significant adverse effect” on fish habitat. DOT regularly conducts work that has some impact on fish habitat, according to White. He said in an email that the concern specifically relates to many of the projects the department executes that are at least partially funded with federal money. Anderson and other initiative supporters insist it is not intended to prohibit unavoidable small or temporary impacts as many fear, which is why it calls for “minimizing” impacts if avoiding them is not practical. She also strongly contended that White “is just wrong” in his characterization of how it could lead to more projects being subject to NEPA and DOT is conflating the state and federal permitting systems. “NEPA is triggered by a federal action that would have significant adverse effects. It is not triggered by state laws,” Anderson said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Bristol Bay harvest hits 39 million, but statewide take down by a third

Alaska’s salmon fisheries continue to lag alarmingly in several regions, with overall catches down by a third from the same time last year. The single exception is at the unconquerable Bristol Bay, where a catch of 39 million sockeye so far has single-handedly pushed Alaska’s total salmon harvest towards a lackluster 60 million fish. It’s too soon to press the panic button and there is lots of fishing left to go, but fears are growing that Alaska’s 2018 salmon season will be a bust for most fishermen. Worse, it comes on the heels of a cod crash and tanking halibut markets (and catches). State salmon managers predicted that Alaska’s salmon harvest this year would be down by 34 percent to 149 million fish; due to an expected decline of pinks. But with the exception of Bristol Bay, nobody expected fishing to be this bad. Catches of sockeye, the big money fish, are off by millions at places like Copper River, Chignik and Kodiak, which has had the weakest sockeye harvest in nearly 40 years. The weekly update by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute said that coho and chinook catches remain slow, and while it is still way early in the season, the “bread and butter” pink harvests are off by 65 percent from the strong run of two years ago. Chums are proving to be some fishermen’s best friends again, following last year’s record 25 million haul. While fishing is 40 percent behind last year’s pace, catches are strong at Prince William Sound and in the Arctic regions. Kotzebue is readying for a top 10 chum catch and some of the best salmon news comes from Norton Sound, where chums and pinks have buyers scrambling to keep up with the fish. “Pink salmon have overrun the Sound again this year,” wrote veteran Jim Menard for the state’s weekly salmon updates at his Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Nome. He added that several part-timers were hired this summer to help keep counts at the weirs passing pinks. “While it’s not quite combat fishing there are big crowds, especially kids at Nome River beach mouth, pulling in pinks nearly every cast,” Menard said. He added that sockeyes also are showing up strong enough to “create another caravan of vehicles heading out of Nome to seine and gillnet sockeyes in the river.” Into the void Salmon customers at home and abroad were poised to take all the wild Alaska salmon they could get going into the season. Demand was strong, and despite Alaska fishermen catching over a billion pounds of salmon last year, there were no big carryovers in freezers. A lower U.S. dollar value also had increased interest by European buyers. Competing farmed fish prices also have remained high all year and that sector has wasted no time filling any Alaska salmon void. Imports of fresh whole and filleted farmed salmon to the U.S., especially from Chile, are at all-time highs with fillets topping 140 million pounds through May, an increase of nearly 14 percent. Market analyst Janice Schreiber of Urner Barry said farmed salmon pricing also is “exceeding three-year averages.” Market reports also said that Norway is sending record amounts of its farmed salmon to China. Chinese buyers are turning their backs on Alaska salmon made more expensive by Trump’s 25 percent import tariff that went into effect July 6. Salmon grows greens Salmon is now being grown in the nation’s first landlocked fish farm on 720 acres in rural Northfield, Wis. Over the July Fourth holiday a company called Superior Fresh sent its first batch of 20,000 pounds of fresh, 10-pound Atlantic salmon to Festival Food stores across the state. Plans call for an annual output of about 72 tons of salmon and steelhead trout from the “fish house” which adjoins a huge greenhouse, making it the largest aquaponics facility in the world. In the growing system, which uses no pesticides or antibiotics, water is drawn from two deep wells and feeds into a hydroponic set-up that produces 20,000 heads of lettuce every day. The water recirculates back to the fish tanks; the less than 1 percent of wastewater is used to irrigate alfalfa for hay production. Wisconsinites hail the dual output as the future of environmental-controlled agriculture. Superior Fresh said it is “priming the pump” for fresh greens and fish to be sold year round in places where it wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The East Coast has even bigger plans for the world’s largest land-based salmon growing business, minus the greenhouse. Nordic Aquafarms of Norway hopes to soon break ground on 40 acres in Belfast, Maine, and eventually produce nearly 70 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually. The salmon will be grown in tanks holding up to 2 million gallons of recycling water that is sourced from a reservoir no longer used for the city’s water supply. Nordic Aquafarm president Erik Heim said in media reports that the U.S. currently imports more than 80 percent of its seafood, and that raising salmon in Maine cuts shipping time and costs and delivers a fresher product to American customers. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Trade war escalates with seafood import tariffs

President Donald Trump’s trade war now includes tariffs on seafood going to and from China. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer purchasing 54 percent of Alaska seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion. On July 6 a 25 percent tariff went into effect on U.S. imports to China, including all Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, sablefish, geoduck clams and more. Then on July 11 Trump added a 10 percent tariff on all seafood sent from China to the US. According to market expert John Sackton of Seafoodnews.com, it includes products that are reprocessed in China and sent back for distribution in this country. The total value of the 291 seafood products China sends to the U.S. each year is $2.75 billion. Sackton called the 10 percent tariff “a $275 million dollar direct tax on Americans.” It will hit 70 percent of imports of frozen cod fillets. Likewise, 23 percent of all frozen salmon fillets come into the U.S. from China, including pink salmon that is reprocessed into salmon burgers and fillets. Trade data show that China represents 47 percent of U.S. breaded shrimp imports and 37 percent of frozen squid imports. China also supplies 20 percent of the U.S. frozen scallop market. Sackton said the economic hit will go far beyond the $275 million consumer tax. “As sellers are forced to raise prices, competitive products from other countries will follow suit resulting in across the board seafood price increases. That will discourage seafood buying so sellers will lose business as customers back away,” he added. China has been the fastest growing global market for high-end seafood. In late May, Gov. Bill Walker led a trade mission to China with several Alaska seafood companies which have spent millions to expand their brand even more. “All this money will go up in smoke,” Sackton said. In recent years, Alaska seafood sales to China have increased by millions of dollars through e-commerce activity, said Hannah Lindoff, international program director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Lindhoff said ASMI will try to expand sales to other markets, such as Brazil, Spain and Ukraine. But, as Sackton points out, it is more expensive to mount campaigns in multiple countries than in a single large market like China. ASMI operates on a shoestring international budget of less than $7 million per year, mostly from grants and federal dollars. Its overall budget is about $22 million, nearly all from processor taxes. Trump’s seafood tariffs come at a time when the Alaska legislature has zeroed out the state’s $1 million dollar contribution to ASMI. Compare that to Norway’s more than $50 million marketing budget from a small tax on its seafood exports. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported on Thursday that “scant” American fish or shellfish was for sale at Jingshen, Beijing’s largest wholesale seafood market which supplies restaurants and grocers across China. Several distributors said that the recent 25 percent tariff has made American seafood unaffordable. Unless Congress intervenes, the additional 10 percent will take effect in September. Alaska’s delegation has yet to comment. Gearing up for crab Boats already are signing up to participate in fall Bering Sea crab fisheries that begin Oct. 15. Meanwhile, many crabbers are still awaiting word on what their payouts are for last season. Prior to the crab fisheries changing from “come one, come all” to a catch share form of management in 2005, prices were set before boats headed out, said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which negotiates prices for most of the fleet. “Since then the price is based on the historical division of revenues and there is a formula that is applied to sales. It takes a long time for sales to be completed to the point where we know or can predict what the final wholesale prices will be, and then we can apply the formula to it,” he explained. Prices to fishermen were down a bit from last year but historically very high, Jacobsen said. For snow crab and bairdi Tanners, which typically are hauled up after the start of each year, prices were just settled and won’t be made public for another week. “Most of the snow crab and bairdi prices were over $4 a pound, so that’s very good,” he hinted. According to processor data, last season’s average snow crab price was $4.07 a pound; Tanner crab averaged $3.33. For golden king crab, fishermen averaged $5.51 per pound. For Bristol Bay red king crab, the price averaged $9.20 a pound last year, down from the record $10.18 in 2016. Heading into the fall, Jacobsen said the price outlook is good. “We expect king crab to be very high this year. There is quite a bit of demand throughout the world and it’s in short supply,” he said, adding that a huge reduction in illegally caught crab imports from Russia has helped boost the market for Alaska crab. Right now stakeholders are “on pins and needles” that crab stock surveys underway now will yield good news for the 2018-19 crab catches, which have been on a downward trend for several years. “Based on last year’s surveys it looks like we might have another decline in snow crab and we’re not sure about red king crab as it was kind of on the margin last year,” Jacobsen said. “With Tanners, we never know. If we can get some good quotas it should be a good year,” Last season’s catch limit for Bristol Bay red king crab was 6.6 million pounds, down 20 percent. For golden king crab the quota has remained stable at 6.3 million pounds. The snow crab catch quota at 19 million pounds was a 12 percent decline. For bairdi Tanners, a catch of just 2.5 million pounds was down from over 20 million pounds two years prior. The combined value of the 2017/2018 Bering Sea crab fisheries was nearly $190 million at the Alaska docks. Fish prices The first thing any fisherman wants to know is what he’s getting paid for his catch. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides dock prices for nearly every fish species with comparisons going back to 1984 in its Commercial Operator’s Annual Report, or COAR, compiled from inputs by Alaska processors. Here’s a sampler of some of the average prices from 2017: The price for cod was 32 cents per pound, an increase of 4 cents from 2016. The lingcod price averaged $1.88, up 33 cents. Those 3 billion pounds of Alaska pollock fetched 12 cents per pound for fishermen, down a penny. Herring also dropped a penny to 11 cents. Octopus averaged 60 cents per pound, a 14-cent increase; sea cucumbers fetched $5.02, up nearly a dollar. For 11 types of flounders, pesky arrowtooth increased 3 cents to 10 cents per pound; rex sole held as the priciest flatfish at 34 cents. Alaska plaice was the cheapest at 3 cents per pound. For 20 types of rockfish, yellow eye (red snapper) topped the list at $1.49, up 20 cents. Geoduck clams paid out at $6.27, down 32 cents. Longnose skates fetched 49 cents, up a nickel. Halibut averaged $6.25, an increase of 19 cents per pound. Sablefish averaged $7.36 compared to $6.50 the year before. Sockeye salmon averaged $1.26, up 20 cents. At $5.73, chinook salmon increased from $4.88; cohos at $1.23 were up a nickel, chums at 70 cents increased by 8 cents, and pinks at 36 cents per pound dropped a penny. The priciest Alaska catch was spot shrimp paying out at $9.32, up 36 cents. Sculpins were the cheapest at one penny a pound. Another report shows how much each fishery produced and what processors sold it for. Alaska pollock topped them all with 1.3 billion pounds processed for a first wholesale value of $1.5 billion. Sockeye salmon was second at nearly $790 million for 208 million pounds. Why should all Alaskans care about fish prices? With annual catches coming in at 5 billion to 6 billion pounds per year, adding just one penny per pound to the total catch makes a difference of nearly $1 million dollars in landing taxes for the state and local governments each. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board rejects emergency petition over pink salmon hatchery production

The Valdez Fisheries Development Association can move ahead with its plan to increase its pink salmon production after the Alaska Board of Fisheries rejected an emergency petition from groups led by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association who oppose the plan. The seven-member board ultimately decided the issue does not constitute an emergency on a 4-3 vote during a Tuesday afternoon meeting in Anchorage. Board members Israel Payton of Wasilla, Reed Morisky of Fairbanks and Orville Huntington of Huslia voted in favor of the petition meeting emergency criteria for consideration. Those voting against were chair John Jensen of Petersburg, Alan Cain of Anchorage, Robert Ruffner of Soldotna and Fritz Johnson of Dillingham. The petition was signed by KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease and 18 individuals representing Lower Cook Inlet commercial fishing interests, the Chitina Dipnetters Association, the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, among others. It urged the board to reverse a previously approved increase of 20 million pink salmon eggs by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association this year for expanding future hatchery-produced harvests. KRSA first submitted the petition May 1. The first version was signed by nine sport and personal use fishing groups, sans the Lower Cook Inlet commercial representatives. The board subsequently voted to a 3-3 tie on the issue during a May 14 teleconference meeting. The petition alleges that increasing the number of hatchery produced salmon poses a threat to wild salmon stocks as the hatchery fish compete with wild salmon for food while they are collectively rearing in the ocean. It highlights that a sampling study found up to 70 percent of pink salmon returning to some small Lower Cook Inlet streams in 2017 were found to be from Prince William Sound hatchery stocks. “In addition to the straying issues of PWS hatchery-origin pink salmon observed in Lower Cook Inlet, recent scientific publications (building on past published reports and internal Alaska Department of Fish and Game reviews) have provided cause for great concern over the biological impacts associated with continued release of very large numbers of hatchery salmon into the North Pacific Ocean, including the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska,” the petition states. Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten wrote to a letter to Gease June 14 in which he denied the petition via authority delegated to him by the Board of Fisheries, but noted two board members had already requested a special meeting to discuss the matter. Fish and Game officials as well as board chair Jensen said at the Tuesday meeting that emergency findings are rare; there must be an unforeseen event that threatens a resource or an instance where action would lead to a loss of harvest opportunity that couldn’t be had in the future. “I don’t think taking eggs is an emergency,” Jensen said. Gease said in an interview that the state has policies in place that make it illegal to transport salmon between regions, but the department is passively allowing it to happen by approving increased hatchery production when the fish are known to stray. “It seemingly now is OK that there is no standard for hatchery fish straying,” Gease said. Valdez Fisheries Development Association leaders could not immediately be reached for comment in time for this story. Morisky said he feels instances where 70 percent of the fish spawning in a stream have strayed from hatchery stocks constitutes an emergency and allowing an egg take that will lead to more hatchery fish could threaten wild salmon stocks, the health of which Fish and Game is required to prioritize above other salmon. Payton said the potential issue of hatchery fish competing with wild salmon for food in the ocean is of particular concern to him. “I do think there is a potential threat to the wild stock resource here,” Payton said. Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries Division Director Scott Kelley said the Valdez-area hatcheries originally wanted to take an additional 70 million eggs and increase the total egg take to 300 million from 230 million, but the department agreed to a phased approach of increases in 20 million-egg increments in 2016 and 2018. It’s an approach that is commonly used with hatcheries across the state, according to Kelley. “That’s why we ease in — test the waters, literally,” he said. Kelley noted recent wild stock returns of pink salmon to Prince William sound in 2013 and 2015 — pinks typically return in two-year high and low abundance cycles — were among the most prolific on record. Board member Johnson of Dillingham said the egg take is supposed to happen in three days, adding the board is already scheduled to take up hatchery issues during an October 15-16 work session in Anchorage. It was also emphasized at the meeting that the department, in conjunction with hatchery groups, is working on a long-term study to flesh out theories of how hatchery salmon from Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska do or don’t impact wild fish stocks. Cain, of Anchorage, said the issues of how hatchery salmon interact with wild salmon are very important but the petition didn’t meet the board’s threshold for an emergency. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Reprocessed state seafood exports exempted from Chinese tariffs

It appears the blowback from President Donald Trump’s trade dispute with China will fall on some, but not all of Alaska’s seafood exports to the country. The Trump administration’s 25 percent tariff on an estimated $34 billion of goods imported to the U.S. that took effect July 6 prompted Chinese leaders to respond with their own 25 percent tariff on U.S. goods headed for their country, including seafood, Alaska’s primary export. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Director of International Affairs John Henderschedt said June 28 that seafood products destined to be reprocessed and re-exported from China will be exempt from the tariffs after agency officials discussed the issue with the U.S. Embassy there. While a positive development for Alaska fishermen and processors, the cumulative impact the tariffs could have on the commercial fishing industry in the state is still unknown, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Technical Program Director Michael Kohan said in an interview. Overall, Alaska exported more than $4.9 billion of goods in 2017, of which more than $2.4 billion was seafood, according to the state Office of International Trade. China bought $1.3 billion worth of Alaska’s exports last year, including $796 million — nearly a third — of the state’s total seafood exports. Kohan said leaders at ASMI, the state’s flagship seafood advocacy group, have been wondering what role the tariffs would play in their industry since they were officially announced June 15. She noted that the ever-shifting dynamics of the volatile industry make it difficult to pin down exactly how much Alaska seafood stays in China and how much is sent back out after value-added processomg. Part of the challenge of tracking the Chinese market is that it has grown rapidly, according to Kohan, which of course is a good thing. Prior to about 2003, China bought minimal amounts of Alaska seafood — less than $100 million per year — mirroring demand growth in the country for other Alaska products as well. “We do know that higher end species are consumed domestically, so those are geoducks, sea cucumber, crab, sablefish; and most of the species that are going to be reprocessed and re-exported are pollock and pink and keta (chum) salmon,” Kohan said. Adding to the challenge of trying to quantify and track what goes where is the fact that each processing company sends different volumes of various products to different countries every year, Kohan said further. “With a billion dollars of seafood exports to China it’s a very serious issue for Alaska and could have potential effects on harvesters,” she said. “However, it’s too soon to know the full impact on Alaska seafood harvesters or the state’s overall economy.” Chris Woodley, executive director of The Groundfish Forum, a trade association the for Bering Sea Amendment 80 factory trawler fleet, said the vast majority of U.S. exports of frozen seafood to China are reprocessed to be shipped out of the country later. Such U.S. exports to China that are then re-exported are not subject to Chinese duties or the countries value-added tax because imposing them would just raise the cost of the products when they are resold. Kohan said the true impact of the tariffs should be better known in the coming weeks as more geoducks and other seafood is shipped to China and processors begin making decisions on where to send their products now that the tariffs are in place. If those impacts prove to be unworkable, the seafood could be sent elsewhere in the future, but that move would be gradual as well, she said. “Alaska seafood has a strong and growing demand worldwide. The products that are being exported to China now could fill markets for Alaska seafood such as South Korea, Japan, Brazil, the U.K., northern and southern eastern Europe are all large markets for us so there’s a great network for Alaska seafood internationally,” Kohan said. “However, as with the (2014) Russian embargo, these shifts in markets take time to develop and so we will see possibly some changes but obviously we’ll be searching to develop our other strong markets with these seafood products in the future.” ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected] Correspondent Jim Paulin in Unalaska contributed to this report.

FISH FACTOR: Bristol Bay lone bright spot for salmon so far

Sockeye salmon catches often add up to half of the value of Alaska’s total salmon fishery, and the so-called reds dominate the season’s early fisheries starting in mid-May. But sockeye catches so far range from record-setting highs at Bristol Bay to record lows nearly everywhere else. For example, the Copper River sockeye harvest of just 26,000 is the lowest in 50 years. At Kodiak just 212,000 sockeyes were taken through July 6, making it the weakest harvest in 38 years. Sockeye fishing at Yakutat has been closed due to the lowest returns in 50 years; likewise, fishermen at Chignik also have yet to see an opener. Sockeye harvest levels at Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula also are running well below average. Fishery scientists suspect the downturns are due to the warmest sea-surface temperatures ever recorded running from 2014-16, which likely depleted food sources before the sockeyes returned from the ocean this year as adults. At the other extreme, the early sockeye run at Bristol Bay set records for some of the best catches ever. By July 6 fishermen at the Nushagak district had four harvests that topped 1 million reds per day, including a record 1.77 million fish taken on July 1. Salmon trackers Anyone can easily track Alaska’s daily and weekly salmon catches with two free sources. The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s “Blue Sheet” updates salmon catches daily for every Alaska region from May through September. Through June 6 it showed that just over 22.2 million salmon had been taken so far: 16.5 million sockeyes, nearly 5 million chums, 91,000 chinook, 8,000 coho and 636,000 pink salmon. ADFG also provides a weekly in-season summary and catch tally by region. The harvests are graphed to show the progression of catches for the fishing season, with comparisons to the previous year and 5-year averages. The timing charts can be customized by region, area, district or fishery and all five salmon species. Another Alaska salmon source is the harvest summary done weekly by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. It also shows catches by species and region with comparisons to the previous year’s catch. As of July 5 the summary showed that the pace of Alaska’s salmon harvest was about 25 percent below the same time last year, an improvement from the previous week. Sign up for the summary by contacting Garret Evridge at [email protected] Fish watch Lots of fishing is going on besides salmon all summer across Alaska. Cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish are being hauled in from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast is ongoing with a summer harvest pegged at 2.25 million pounds. A red king crab fishery is underway at Norton Sound with a limit of 290,282 pounds. Golden king crab along the Aleutians opens Aug. 1 with a 6.3 million pound harvest. Lingcod fisheries continue in portions of Prince William Sound and the Panhandle. Shrimp fisheries also are ongoing in both regions. Scallop fisheries opened across Alaska on July 1 with a total take of 265,000 pounds of shucked meats. The Dutch Harbor food and bait herring fishery opened July 1 with a catch quota set at 1,810 tons. For halibut, 47 percent of Alaska’s 17 million-pound catch has been taken so far with less than 9 million pounds remaining. For sablefish, about 15 million pounds are left in the nearly 26 million-pound quota. Both fisheries run through Nov. 7. In other fish news: the Alaska Board of Fisheries will hold a special meeting on July 17 in Anchorage to address several emergency management petitions, including hatchery production in Prince William Sound, sockeye failures at Chignik, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula, and gillnet chum fishing on the Yukon. Finally, Trump’s trade war with Alaska’s top seafood buyer, China, went into effect on July 6. A 25 percent tariff will be imposed on Chinese imports of Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, sablefish, geoduck clams, mackerel and more. That’s on top of existing tariffs ranging from 5 to 15 percent. China purchased 54 percent of Alaska’s seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion. Ferry science The state ferry Columbia now has more than six months of data since it began testing the waters for acidity last fall from Southeast Alaska across British Columbia to Bellingham, Wash. The weekly testing is part of an unprecedented Alaska-Canada collaboration to learn how increasing ocean acidity affects regional fisheries. “Nowhere in the world is there a ferry system that’s outfitted with CO2 sensors running that scale of a transit. It is really exciting,” said Wiley Evans, the technical lead for Canada’s Hakai Institute who rigged the 418-foot ferry to suck up water samples while it is underway. The samples are measured automatically for oxygen, temperature, salinity and carbon dioxide, which indicates the acidity of the water. “We’re trying to understand the time and space patterns in surface ocean CO2 chemistry near shore. In this area, it’s extremely data-poor, Evans said.” The project aims to discover how ocean acidity levels change seasonally, and where there are hot spots or refuges from corrosive waters. Off kilter oean chemistry makes it hard for marine creatures — and the micro-organisms they feed on — to form shells, among other things. The ferry information can help scientists estimate the rate at which acidification is occurring in near-shore waters. Preliminary ferry data point to an extremely variable seascape in which the surface water is primarily corrosive in fall and winter, representing the most vulnerable time of year for species sensitive to ocean acidity. When spring arrives, two primary factors create a change: the phytoplankton bloom removes CO2 from the water through photosynthesis, and the water gets warmer making conditions more favorable for shell production. The Columbia data is uploaded daily to the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network website. Major studies show the southeast and southwest regions of the Gulf of Alaska will take the hardest economic hits from increasingly acidic waters. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

King salmon run on Yukon River well below average so far

FAIRBANKS (AP) — This year's king salmon run on the Yukon River is on track to be the second- or third-worst ever recorded. Just over 90,000 kings were counted as they swam past the Pilot Station sonar site near the mouth of the Yukon River this summer, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. The run has thus far been similar to 2015, the second-worst year for king salmon ever recorded, after 2013. The migration from the Bering Sea to the mouth of the river is usually more than halfway over by this point in the summer. Fishery managers expect enough kings will return upriver to satisfy a treaty with Canada and allow enough salmon to reach their spawning grounds where the fish reproduce, the Department of Fish and Game said in a recent statement about the Yukon River. Restrictions on subsistence fisheries will be necessary to meet the escapement goal. The department restricted fishers to 6-inch (15-centimeter) gill nets, instead of the 7½-inch (19-centimeter) size in many areas of the Yukon. The smaller mesh is too small to catch larger king salmon, but is still enough to trap smaller, but more numerous chum salmon. The chum salmon run is relatively strong this year, and it's expected that a large number of chum salmon will make it upriver because of the commercial fishery restrictions in the lower river. The department has also cut in half the number of subsistence fishing hours announced in the pre-season schedule for several districts. Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com  

Salmon struggles extend to unprecedented restrictions at Chignik

A tough sockeye salmon commercial fishing season is shaping up in the Gulf of Alaska, from the Copper River across to Kodiak Island and back to the mainland at Chignik. And the Yukon River is seeing dismal chinook salmon returns, although the summer chum run is strong. “I haven’t put my net in the water once,” complained Chignik purse seiner Roger Rowland on June 26. “It’s literally the worst run ever.” Rowland commented from the fishing district on his cellphone, via teleconference in an Unalaska City Council meeting, about 300 miles to the southwest where he lives, during a break between votes. Rowland, a longtime seiner, city councilor and boat repairman, said he was hoping for better results from the second lake in the river system. Earlier in the month, the Chignik crisis prompted an unprecedented emergency order restricting a neighboring fishery from Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten. “Since statehood there has never been this low of an escapement of sockeye salmon at this time through the Chignk weir,” Cotten wrote on June 18. That’s nearly 60 years ago, since Alaska became a state in 1959. ADFG tracks fish passing though the two-gated weir in the river, using video cameras, counted for 10 minutes of every hour by ADFG staff viewing indoor monitors at the remote site on the western side of the Alaska Peninsula. Cotten’s emergency order slashed the hours for commercial fishing in neighboring Area M/South Alaska Peninsula, including Sand Point, King Cove, and False Pass, because Chignik salmon migrate through those areas, traveling northeast back to where they were born about four years earlier in freshwater. “That’s never been done before,” said ADFG Biologist Lisa Fox in Sand Point. Fishing periods in the South Peninsula waters were reduced to 40 hours, down from the normal 88-hour openers, as conservation measures to protect Chignik salmon. While the Area M fleet is catching fish this year, it’s nothing like the amazing previous season. “Last year was a pretty phenomenal year for sockeye, for everything, really,” said Fox. In 2017, the seiners, gillnet boats and setnetters landed 1.76 million sockeye, well above the 10-year average of 1.19 million. As of June 25, the catch stood at 671,000 reds, substantially below average. “This year’s sockeye harvest has been very low,” Fox said, although the chum salmon harvest is strong. The sockeye harvest total increased a few days later to 877,640 on June 28 for Area M. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commercial harvest strategy for 2018, the Chignik River watershed is managed with an early run to Black Lake, and a late run to Chignik Lake. The early run to Black Lake, in the interior of the peninsula, was forecast at 844,000 sockeye, or red, salmon. The harvest was projected at 448,000 reds. The Chignik harvest strategy document, written by state fisheries biologist Dawn Wilburn, said the early run typically peaks in late June. The late run goes to Chignik Lake, closer to the ocean, with a forecasted run of about 900,000, and a projected catch of 563,000 fish. Last year, Chignik fisherman caught a total of about 1 million sockeye, accounting for 45 percent of the total paid to salmon fishermen of $15.8 million, with 41 percent of the ex-vessel dollars paid for pink salmon. The 67 permit holders fishing in 2017 earned an average of $236,000, including kings, chums and coho. “It’s all hypothetical, but it’s probably related to the warm ocean conditions,” Wilbur said. Earlier this salmon season, disappointing sockeye and chinook salmon returns were reported at another Gulf of Alaska salmon fishery, Copper River, on the east side of the gulf, about 500 miles away. Sport, dipnet and commercial fishing were all closed in response. The poor returns were attributed to the “blob” that raised water temperatures several degrees between 2014 and 2016, the same phenomenon linked to an 80 percent cut in the Pacific cod commercial fishing quota in the gulf this year. The Copper River harvest, limited to just three fishing periods in mid-May before being shut down, is the second-lowest in the past 50 years. In Kodiak, the major river systems had met escapement goals, but commercial salmon fishermen weren’t catching very many fish despite the same amount of boats as usual, according to biologist Jeff Spalinger, who called any link to water temperatures “speculative.” On June 27, ADFG reported a sockeye harvest of 102,000 thousand, and in a normal year the Kodiak catch would be closer to a half million. The Yukon River is closed to commercial king salmon fishing, and subsistence times have been reduced, in a run that’s looking like the poor season of 2015. “It looks like a weak run at this point,” said Wayne Jenkins, of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association. But in a bright note, the summer chum salmon run is “very robust,” he said. The 2015 season had the second poorest Yukon king harvest on record, and the worst catch was the year before, in 2014, according to Holly Carroll of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Emmonak. “The return is below average, and it appears to be below the preseason forecast,” Carroll said. ^ Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Copper River crash will cost commercial fishermen millions

Copper River sockeye fishermen are facing historic low returns this year, prompting some commercial fisherman to target other species elsewhere in Prince William Sound, and leaving others waiting onshore in what is usually a profitable fishery to the tune of $15 million or more in ex-vessel value. Through mid-June, the commercial Copper River District drift gillnet fishery had landed just less than 26,000 sockeye salmon and a little more than 7,000 kings during three mid-May fishing periods. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had expected a harvest this summer of nearly 1 million sockeye in the district, and about 13,000 kings. As the harvest stands now, it’s the second-lowest in the past 50 years. The Copper River fish typically fetch a premium price as the first of the season, and this year was no exception, with prices as high as $75 per pound for kings at the Pike’s Place market in Seattle after the May 17 season-opening period. But the district hasn’t re-opened after the first three periods because the sockeye returns are so poor, so the final value is likely to be far lower than the $20 million-plus the fishery often nets. ADFG Area Management Biologist Jeremy Botz said it would take a significant improvement for the fishery to re-open. “(There’s) not anything to support a commercial fishery at this time,” he said on June 19. Botz said there’s a chance the commercial fishery could re-open if the numbers improved, but that wasn’t looking likely in the near-term. Typically, the sockeye fishery winds down in late July. Coho management begins Aug. 15, and Botz said that should be unaffected by the slow sockeye run. Before the season began, the ADFG forecast noted that the wild sockeye and king returns to Copper River were expected to be smaller than in years past, with a total sockeye run predicted to come in about 16 percent below the 10-year average, and a chinook run estimated at 4 percent below the average. Through June 19, the sonar counter that is about 70 miles downstream of the popular Chitna dipnet fishery had counted just above 243,000 fish, with slow daily counts. The in-river goal past the sonar this year is 644,000 to 1.03 million salmon. The low end of the escapement goal is 360,000 sockeyes. Botz said it is still possible to meet that goal, but it will depend how the rest of the run shapes up. The count so far is about the eighth-lowest on record, Botz said. The department also does an aerial survey count on the Copper River Delta, which was well below the anticipated range, too. Re-opening the fishery would depend both on the aerial survey numbers, and the sonar count, Botz said. The low numbers have meant restrictions for the in-river fisheries too, not just the commercial side. The department has closed the popular personal use fishery at Chitna, as well as sportfishing in-river. The run does look close enough to meeting its escapement goals that the department has offered some subsistence fishing time, Botz noted. Ocean conditions impacting size, run strength The fish that are showing up also aren’t as big as they used to be. “Overall, the average weight has continued to remain down,” Botz said. That was seen in the first few commercial openings, and continues to be the case for the subsistence fishery, he said. Botz said this is about the fourth year in a row of small sockeye in the Copper River. In 2015 and 2016, the average weight was down to about 5 pounds. Last year, it increased slightly, to 5.5 pounds, still far smaller than the typical size, which is typically more than 6 pounds. Botz said there are several theories about what is causing the smaller fish, which have also been seen in other parts of the state in the last few years, but some things are certain. “The smaller size-at-age, there’s definitely some competition or shortage of food out at the ocean,” he said. It’s hard to say exactly what causes poor fish runs, but Botz said it’s likely that ocean conditions play a role, including warmer ocean temperatures caused by the “Blob” of warm water that moved into the Gulf of Alaska in 2015 and 2016. He noted that although there were some large escapements in the years producing the current sockeye run, the large number of stocks in the Copper River system typically mitigate any big impact coming from a large escapement. “Overall, the bigger driver is out in the ocean,” Botz said. Small run, lean earnings The Copper River isn’t the only struggling fishery in Alaska this summer. By mid-June, the returns in Kodiak were weak as well, and several king fisheries were shut down around the state including the early run of Kenai king salmon. Staff for Gov. Bill Walker did not respond to a question about whether he was likely to seek a disaster declaration for the Copper River fishery, or any other shortcomings in the state. More often, that happens after the season is over. The high Copper River prices could help mitigate some of the economic impact of the shutdown, but not all. Copper River drifters typically harvest 60 to 70 percent of total Prince William Sound drift-harvest of sockeye each year, and take home a slightly larger proportion of the drift sockeye fishery’s ex-vessel value, because the Copper River and Bering districts typically fetch a better price per pound than the rest of the sockeye caught by PWS drifters. In 2016, they landed 1.1 million sockeye out of a total 1.6 million for all Prince William Sound drift fisheries, worth about $13.3 million at the average price for that district of $2.30 per pound. That was then considered a relatively lean year for the fishery, but 2018 is unlikely to match it. Botz said many fisherman are also fishing elsewhere in Prince William Sound since they can’t fish the Copper River district, the western Prince William Sound enhanced chum and sockeye fisheries are seeing the biggest uptick in effort. “Most folks, even folks that don’t typically go over to the westside, are over there this year,” he said, noting that just a few “die-hard” Copper River drifters are waiting in Cordova to see if their favorite fishery re-opens. But that won’t completely offset the losses fishermen face from the slow year in what Botz said is “normally a reliable fishery.” The only comparable years were 1979, when the fishery shut down after just a few periods, and 1980 when it was pre-emptively closed. “Now it’s kinda wait and see if we see some improvements here,” Botz said in June.

Coastal Villages study renews fight over CDQ quota allocations

A new study reaffirms that large and long-standing inequities still exist in a federal program aimed at improving the economic situation in Western Alaska. Coastal Villages Region Fund commissioned the report conducted by the Seattle-based research firm Community Attributes Inc., which concludes the fisheries allocations in the Community Development Quota Program prevent the groups representing the poorest regions in Western Alaska from fully achieving their mission. Coastal Villages is the CDQ group for 20 villages on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which is one of the most economically depressed regions not only of Alaska, but the country as well. The Western Alaska CDQ Economic Needs Report notes that Coastal Villages serves 35 percent of the population meant to benefit from the program, yet has access to just 24 percent of the pollock, about 18 percent of the crab and 17 percent of the Pacific cod quota dedicated to the CDQ Program. Those fisheries quotas are allocated amongst the six CDQ groups that cover residents within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast in an area starting north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula south and west through Bristol Bay and out the Aleutian chain. Overall, the CDQ Program is allocated 10 percent of federal groundfish fisheries quota as a means to keep more of the economic benefits from the fisheries in the region. The program was established in 1992 and is part of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act fisheries management law. Comparatively, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA, covering communities on the western Alaska Peninsula and the island chain, and the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, or CBSFA, dedicated to St. Paul Island, represent just 2 percent and 1 percent of the total CDQ population but get 14 percent and 5 percent of the program’s pollock quota, respectively, according to the report. It states further that Coastal Villages represents 41 percent of the total CDQ population that lives on incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty line while APICDA and CBFSA again are in the 1 to 2 percent range of the metric. “From this report we’re seeing that the most economically disadvantaged people in the region are receiving less benefit from the program than others,” Coastal Villages Outreach Manager Michelle Humphrey said in an interview. The goal of the study, which reinforces a message Coastal Villages has long been sending, was to again illustrate the economic disparities between the CDQ sub-regions and motivate officials to restructure the allocations amongst the groups, according to Humphrey. CDQ allocations were last addressed by Congress in the 2006 Coast Guard authorization bill, which generally kept the allocations in place but also directed the State of Alaska to conduct performance reviews of the groups and recommend quota reductions if they aren’t meeting their mission. The last reviews published in January 2013 concluded that Coastal Villages, APICDA and CBSFA all met the goals of economic improvement in their regions to varying degrees and thus no changes to quota allocations were recommended. However, Humphrey said the study also highlights the fact that the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. and the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association also receive allocations that are disproportionately small relative to the economic need in their regions, but the disparity is not quite as great as it is for Coastal Villages. She said the allocations have never been based on a formula that takes into account population or economic need. Exactly how the quota distribution was originally determined is unclear, but Coastal Villages insists “they were created in a very political atmosphere,” Humphrey said. Coastal Villages acknowledges changing the allocations is a challenging process as it requires an act of Congress, but notes similar assistance programs are often driven by needs-based calculations. “I think at this point we’d be interested in seeing what the best practice for (this) type of program is. There’s lots of formulas that are currently in place for housing funds and other federal programs,” Humphrey said further. “So I hope that we can start the discussion about what that formula would look like but I don’t think we have a formula at this time.” Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have generally shied away from the issue, insisting the CDQ groups need to agree on the matter before they can act. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s spokeswoman Karina Petersen wrote in an email that Murkowski has encouraged the group’s leaders to discuss the issue. “If a reallocation effort is to move forward, it should be consensus-based and flow out of a constructive dialogue between all six groups,” Petersen wrote. A spokeswoman for Rep. Don Young, who authored the 2006 Coast Guard bill through his leadership position on the House Transportation Committee at the time, did not answer emailed questions in time for this story. In the past, Young has been emphatic that the allocations will not change without the CDQ leaders reaching agreement on what the changes should be. APICDA CEO Larry Cotter did not respond to requests for an interview on the topic and — exemplifying its sensitive nature — neither did Norton Sound officials, despite the report’s conclusions that the Nome-area group is on the short end of the stick. And while the performance of the CDQ groups has generally been positive, they have drawn criticism over executives’ pay and investment decisions in some instances. In 2009 Coastal Villages opened a $35 million fish processing plant in the village of Platinum that was meant to employ 125 people and make the group the third-largest employer in the region. Coastal Villages said at the time the plant would likely operate at a deficit for the first five years. It has been closed since 2016 and Humphrey said the group does not foresee itself working in local fisheries in the near future. Instead, Coastal Villages is focused on programs that bring broader benefits to all of its region’s residents, she said. Yukon Delta Executive Director Ragnar Alstrom testified in August 2017 before the Senate subcommittee covering oceans and fisheries and chaired by Sen. Dan Sullivan that the program has enabled the region’s communities to directly participate in the commercial fishing industry and now provides more than 5,500 jobs and $60 million in wages and other forms of income. Yukon Delta is the largest private employer in its region, accounting for 615 direct jobs in 2016 and investments of $10.2 million into the region over the year, according to Alstrom. He said that overall the program has worked well and needs stability, but the Western Alaska Community Development Association established in 2006 to act as a collective body for the CDQ groups to interact with Congress “has ceased to function in any meaningful way.” At the same time, Alstrom said Yukon Delta is encouraged that all six groups want to make the association functional again. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Alaska seafood exports hit with tariffs by China

Shockwaves rocked the Alaska seafood industry when China announced on June 15 that it will add an additional 25 percent tariff on seafood imports starting July 6 in retaliation to tariffs set by President Donald Trump. “The 25 percent will be added to the current base tariffs which typically range from 5 to 15 percent,” said Garrett Evridge, a fishery analyst with the McDowell Group. The list of seafood products includes all Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, snow crab, Atka mackerel, sablefish, geoduck clams and more. “This is devastating news,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 34 groups. “The tariff will not just impact commercial fishermen but will also affect the more than 60,000 individuals who are employed by the state’s fishing industry.” China has been Alaska’s top seafood customer since 2011, purchasing 54 percent of all seafood exports valued at $1.3 billion in 2017. The bulk of Alaska’s fish harvests go to China for reprocessing before they are sent to customers around the world. Those also will be subject to the 25 percent tariff, said market expert John Sackton of SeafoodNew.com. “China has become the de facto export destination for virtually all seafood reprocessing done overseas. The cost of these tariffs will slam the seafood industry, because ultimately there is little choice but to continue to send these products to China,” he said. “So through no fault of our own, most companies will see a big hit to their bottom line because they will have to agree to lower prices in order to maintain marketability in the face of this 25 percent increase in costs.” “This represents the worst outcome feared by the industry,” Sackton added. “The Chinese are deliberately targeting smaller industries that have little ability to fight back.” Candidates mostly pan Pebble Five candidates for Alaska governor met up at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo in Naknek last week. The debate focused on a wide range of topics affecting rural Alaska, including two hot fish issues. Naknek is the hub of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay, which also is at the heart of the proposed plans for the Pebble Mine. Gov. Bill Walker said emphatically that he is not in favor of the Pebble mine. “I had an interesting discussion with a group that said it can be done safely. My response was ‘what if it doesn’t?’ Look at all that is at risk. I am very pro-development and pro-mining but not in that location,” Walker said. Mead Treadwell, a Republican candidate from Anchorage, said he will not trade one resource for another. As a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Treadwell said he helped write state water quality standards. “If this mine cannot meet the kind of water quality and habitat protection standards that we have created to protect our fisheries, then it won’t happen,” he stated. “From what I’ve seen it is going to be very hard for Pebble to make it through the process…But it makes sense to have a strong public process where we get to analyze what is happening,” Treadwell added. Republican candidate Scott Hawkins of Anchorage said the mine has the legal right to go through the permitting process, but that it “very well may be the wrong mine in the wrong place because if anything goes wrong, there is just so much at stake.” “I think the mine is losing momentum,” Hawkins added. “All the big investors have decided that it just doesn’t work on several levels. A lot of it is just how controversial it is to the people in this region and that is hurting the mining industry.” Mark Begich, a Democrat from Anchorage, has long touted the “wrong mine/wrong place” meme, which was first stated years ago by former Sen. Ted Stevens. “When people say they are against it, they should be against it all the way,” Begich said. “The first thing I would do as governor would be to immediately make sure the Corps of Engineers knows that state land or state right of way or state access would not be part of their plans or participate in any way. I believe that would finally put an end to this project and end the divisiveness it has caused throughout all of Alaska. This issue is like Groundhog Day, it never goes away and just keeps coming back.” Mike Dunleavy, a Republican candidate from Wasilla, was more equivocal saying it was difficult for him to answer until Pebble goes through the study process. “Once we can examine that data, then I think a final decision can be made,” Dunleavy said, adding that if the mine is going to endanger fisheries or other resources in the area, “I think we all should be against it.” “I do think there is a danger in politicizing this study process that we have. In the end, if it is not a good project we shouldn’t have it permitted.” No backers for salmon initiative The Stand for Salmon initiative that aims to update habitat protections for the first time since statehood could go before voters in November. But the measure has little support from the gubernatorial candidates. “While I don’t support it, I certainly understand that local input is critical in the process,” said Walker. “I believe the reason we have Stand for Salmon is because the Coastal Zone Management Program died in the 2011 legislative session and that took away local input into the development process,” Walker added. “I think this is what happens when you take away input by the people: you meet them at a ballot initiative or you meet them in the court room and I think that is unfortunate.” Treadwell also said he does not support the salmon initiative. “This bill essentially assumes that every stream is anadromous when it’s not. This would take away your property rights without protecting the fish,” Treadwell said. “Do I stand for salmon and believe we need to protect salmon? Absolutely. I don’t think this is the right law to do it.” Hawkins said the “devil is in the details” and he believes the ballot initiative would have a lot of unintended consequences and “shut down a lot of things in this state.” “It’s not that our permitting process couldn’t do with some tightening up,” Hawkins added. “We need to have a process that knows how to say no. Just because you apply for a permit should not mean that at the end of the day you are going to get it. We need a very stringent permitting system that holds projects to very high standards, but I don’t think the initiative is the way we get there.” Dunleavy echoed those sentiments. “I believe there are a number of projects throughout the state that could be at risk. This is a resource state and we need to develop our resources,” Dunleavy said. “We need to do it responsibly and I think the projects should be reviewed separately and held to a permitting and processing standard. I just don’t think an initiative such as Stand for Salmon is good for Alaska.” Begich said he will take a position when a state court rules on the constitutionality of the salmon ballot initiative. “At that point I will make a decision. But I will say that the laws should be revamped and reviewed and that has not been done,” Begich said. “This is a clear symbol of what’s broken in Juneau,” he added. “When you have almost 50,000 Alaskans bring forward an initiative, you have to respect their views and figure out how to fix this problem and make sure our salmon preserved for generations to come.” The entire debate is posted at KTVA’s website. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Net challenge builds on success; BSAI tops industry impact

Plastics in recycled fishing nets are being used to make an amazing array of products around the globe and Alaska plans to get in on the action. An Alaska Net Hack Challenge is being planned for Sept. 8 and 9 that aims to identify potential opportunities for using the tons of old nets piled up in landfills and storage lots across the state and develop new items from the materials. Fishing nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each. “The purpose of the program is to change how people look at fishing nets and ropes. Instead of looking at them as waste materials, hopefully, they will start seeing them as a valuable resource and materials they can use in a different way,” said Nicole Baker, a former fisheries observer and founder of www.netyourproblem.com.  Baker spearheaded a project last summer in Dutch Harbor that collaborated with the local fishing industry and Global Ghost Gear Initiative to ship nearly 240,000 pounds, or about 40 nets, to a company called Plastix in Denmark where they were melted down, pelletized and resold to manufacturers of plastic products. “Socks are being made from recycled fishing nets, water bottles, cell phone cases, carpets, bathing suits, sneakers, sunglasses, skateboards, rugs, bowls, even 3-D printing and injection molds. People are becoming so creative about finding ways to reuse these plastic products,” Baker said. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is based on the Circular Ocean program in the U.K. and Iceland that “aims to inspire enterprises and entrepreneurs to realize the hidden opportunities in discarded fishing nets.” Along with Baker, the two-day events are being organized in Anchorage by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, or AOCI, and by Brian Himelbloom, a retired University of Alaska seafood specialist in Kodiak. “We will dump a bunch of waste nets and rope in the middle of a room and encourage artists, students, designers, business owners, engineers, recyclers and others to take the materials and design products out of it,” Baker explained, adding that Arctic Wire and Rope of Anchorage and gear manufacturers in Seattle are providing supplies for the Anchorage challenge, whereas Kodiak has plenty of “end of life” nets to offer. “On the first day we will show presentations about the context and scale of the issue, the type of materials available, and some products and business models that have been implemented already to get people’s gray matter warmed up,” she added. “On the second day, teams will get together and use the material and design a prototype that will be presented to the judges to get their feedback.” Judges will score the projects on creativity, usefulness and scalability and follow the development over six months. Video conferencing also will be available so that other interested communities can have a guideline on organizing Net Hack Challenges in their fishing towns. The ultimate hope is that some of the prototype projects will become commercially viable through the AOCI’s Blue Economy push that helps develop products to their final stages. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is in its early organizational stage and a website and social media where people can register will be up and running in a few weeks, said AOIC director Joel Cladouhos. In the interim, emails to [email protected] will serve as the contact point. Meanwhile, later this month Nicole Baker will be back in Dutch Harbor and also at St. Paul to collect more nets and give them new life in different useful forms. “My goal is to fill more than seven container loads and top least year’s take,” she said. BS/AI booming In Alaska’s fisheries, the regions of Southeast, Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay and Kodiak attract the most attention. But it turns out that the more far-flung and remote areas provide some of the state’s biggest fish bucks — notably, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions, called BS/AI. A new McDowell Group report measured the statewide economic impacts of shoreside processing operations in Dutch Harbor, Saint Paul, King Cove, Sand Point, False Pass, and other small communities based on an average of 2015 and 2016 harvests and production. It turns out that approximately 30 percent of the seafood industry’s total economic impact in Alaska can be attributed to BS/AI inshore processing and related fishing activity, adding up to nearly $1.6 billion in 2016. Forty-four percent of all seafood processing wages paid in Alaska stemmed from that region, totaling almost $440 million. And a whopping 56 percent of all fish taxes paid in Alaska, including Fisheries Business Tax and taxes levied by local governments, totaled nearly $60 million. Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, with a population of about 4,300, is the largest community in the region and has been the top seafood port in the U.S. by volume for more than 20 years. Forty-seven percent of the town’s workers were employed in seafood processing. All other BS/AI communities have fewer than 1,000 residents. The seasonality and huge volumes of seafood require bringing in workers from elsewhere, but the proportion of Alaska residents on the job in the BS/AI has increased from 17 to 24 percent since 2006. The Economic impact of inshore seafood processing in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Region was produced for Icicle Seafoods Peter Pan Seafoods Trident Seafoods UniSea, Westward and Alyeska Seafoods. Crab shell creations The young Tidal Vision entrepreneurs of Juneau continue to expand their line of “upcycled” products made from a crab shell extract called chitosan. An all-natural solution called High Tide enhances plant growth by triggering the natural immune response that results in larger and hardier crops. “In different plants that means increased yield or sap production, and increased likelihood of plants surviving fungal infections,” said Craig Kasburg, Tidal Vision president, adding that High Tide has been tested on a variety of plants from turf to trees. “It helps to revive stressed trees that are grown in nurseries, such as those that are transported or subjected to a sudden drop in temperature. It has increased their survival rate,” he said. “It also increases the size of berries and tomato plants and decreases the number that die of disease.” High Tide also has produced similar results in the growing of marijuana. “We did trials with over 500 cannabis growers and found the same results,” Kasburg said. “By increasing the sap production, it increased the essential oils and the THC and CBD, everything that makes cannabis valuable.” A crab shell infused spray called Game Meat Protector also is being sold to hunters that protects meat from spoiling and being infested by insects. “It’s simply water, chitosan, and citric acid,” Kasberg said. “When it’s applied it leaves a thin film on the game meat. Because of chitosan’s natural anti-microbial properties and the low pH citric acid, it acts as a preservative and protects the quality of the game meat. It also prevents bugs and insects from landing and burrowing into it.” “It is sort of an insurance policy for hunters,” he added. “When hunting deep in the backcountry there is always a risk of bad weather or other things that can cause a delay. Having a natural way to preserve the quality of the meat as it is being harvested is an important step for hunters.” One eight-ounce bottle is enough to cover an entire large game animal and it can also be sprayed on game bags for extra protection. Purchase Game Meat Protector at Amazon and other outdoor outlets, as well as at the Tidal Vision website. You’ll also find sponges, beverage fining agents, pool clarifiers and more — all originating from Alaska crab shells. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Hagfish studied for fishery potential; questions sought for Bay debate

Hagfish is the real name for what are commonly called slime eels and could become a viable fishery with ready markets standing by. Little is known about hagfish in Alaska, although they are commonly caught elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad. In Oregon, for example, a fleet of 15 to 20 boats catches up to 2 million pounds each year in customized five-gallon buckets or large barrels and pay fishermen up to $1.25 per pound. Now, two Alaska biologists who were given a special permit to catch 60,000 pounds of hagfish for their studies are testing the waters for a fishery with a longliner in Southeast. “It’s commonly seen as a pest,” said Andrew Olson, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. “In longline fisheries for sablefish, they often leave slime blobs on the hooks and strip bait, and they get into shrimp pots as well.” Olson is in the second year of a hagfish study with fellow researcher Aaron Baldwin. Their goal is to “keep the science ahead of any fishery to make sure it is sustainable” by learning more about the unique species. “We are looking at basic biology such as length, weight and egg counts in females. We can’t yet age the fish and they don’t thrive well in captivity. We are really starting from scratch,” Olson said. Reproduction and spawning have never been witnessed or documented, and biologists don’t know where or when hagfish do so. “We’ve seen eggs, and juveniles, but nothing in between,” said Baldwin. “No one has ever seen a baby hagfish.” A single foot-and-a-half, nine-ounce hagfish can fill a bucket with slime in seconds from 100 glands alongside its body. “It’s extruded and looks like a white latex liquid that comes out when it’s dry and it expands when it hits seawater. The slime molecules will entrap water molecules and it is an amazing substance,” he said. The slime has several functions: it suffocates predators, helps hunt prey by forcing them out of burrows and it lubricates entry into fish through the anus. “It has digestive enzymes so when you open up a sablefish, for example, it is literally bones, hagfish slime and a few hagfish inside the fish. They start with the internal organs and eat every bit of flesh that’s in there,” Baldwin explained. Most slime, as with slugs, is just mucus, he said and doesn’t have the capability of absorbing water molecules and expanding. “Hagfish produce a very unique substance. It is definitely one of a kind,” Baldwin added. Studies by the U.S. Navy and other researchers has shown that the chemical makeup of hagfish slime is stronger than spider silk. “Because of its qualities there are lots of efforts to make synthetic duplicates or bioengineer bacteria to produce the slime for industrial purposes,” Baldwin said. “The U.S. Navy is using synthetic hagfish slime to produce a substance that is lighter and stronger than Kevlar. The slime also shows potential as an anti-foulant for ship hulls. And medical research has shown that hagfish slime heals burns quickly and may be used as microfibers for cell repair.” A well-established market for hagfish is Korea where the meat is a barbecue and stir fry favorite and the skin is sold as “eel skin leather” products. “It’s been a fun project to work on,” Baldwin said. “We get to work with fishermen on developing a fishery and it’s a species we haven’t paid much attention to so everything we are learning is really new to us.” If Alaska fishermen encounter hagfish in waters outside of Southeast, Olson and Baldwin would like to know about it. Learn more about hagfish at Alaska Fish and Wildlife News where you also can see videos of commercial hagfish fishing aboard the Viking Sunrise and a biologist handling hagfish slime. Alaska tops for salmon catches Salmon catches throughout the North Pacific remain near all-time highs, and Alaska’s take tops them all. For 25 years the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its member countries Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S. The Commission tracks chums, cohos, pinks, sockeyes, chinook and steelhead trout in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also provides the venue for coordinating research and enforcement activities. For 2017, just more than 460 million salmon weighing more than 2 billion pounds were caught in those waters, less than recent odd-year averages. Salmon catches tend to increase in odd-numbered years when the most abundant species — pink salmon — tend to run higher. Last year the U.S. fleets topped Russia by catching more than any other nation with 53 percent of the total salmon catch, topping 1 billion pounds, with Alaska taking all but 22 million pounds of that. Russia took 38 percent of the N. Pacific salmon last year (nearly 77 million pounds), with all other countries in single digit percentages. As usual, pink salmon made up the bulk of the commercial catch at 49 percent by weight, followed by chums at 29 percent and sockeyes at 19 percent. Cohos made up three percent of the total N. Pacific catch, with Chinook salmon at one percent. The NPAFC report said catch trends for pinks and especially chums in Asia have been declining for 10 years with 2017 the lowest harvest since 2002. In North America, the abundance of salmon species varies from north to south. In Alaska, pink and sockeye salmon are the primary species, followed by chums. In Canada, sockeye, pink, and chums have historically comprised the largest catch, while in Washington, Oregon, and California chums, chinook and coho salmon are the most abundant species. The Commission also tracks releases of hatchery salmon. Member countries released just over five billion fish in 2017, similar to numbers over the past three decades. U.S. hatcheries released the most at 37 percent of the total (nearly 1.9 billion fish), followed by Japan at 35 percent and Russia at 21 percent. Canada released 7 percent of the hatchery fish in the North Pacific and Korea less than 1 percent. Chum salmon made up 64 percent of all hatchery releases, followed by pinks at 25 percent, sockeyes at 5 percent, Chinook salmon at four percent and cohos at less than one percent. Got questions? Organizers of the upcoming Bristol Bay Fish Expo are asking Alaskans to submit questions for the governor candidates’ debate on June 9 in Naknek. “This debate is so important for us in rural Alaska to educate our next governor about what issues we face every day,” said Katie Copps-Wilson. Gov. Bill Walker, Mike Dunleavy, Scott Hawkins and Mike Chenault quickly agreed to participate in the two-hour event. Chenault has since dropped out of the race and Mark Begich is in, causing some last-minute shuffling. “Anyone who has filed will get an invitation,” Copps-Wilson said. “We want to make sure that we address what’s on the minds of people in the community and the state of Alaska.” The question topics will include outmigration, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, energy needs and economics, “The candidates will be debating in Bristol Bay, the heart of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, and at the forefront of that is the Pebble mine. There will definitely be a conversation about where the candidates stand on the mine,” Copps-Wilson said. The two-hour debate will be moderated by Rhonda McBride of KTVA and broadcast live on radio stations KDLG and KAKN. Alaskans are invited to submit written questions on line at [email protected] or at the Expo prior to the debate. The 2nd annual Expo is a fundraiser for Little Angels Childcare Academy and has attracted over 50 exhibitors so far to Naknek, home to 10 fish processing companies and over 1,000 fishing boats. The two-day event has a packed line up of presentations and events, including the biggest money-maker on Friday night – live and silent auctions with professional auctioneer Dan Newman of Alaska Premier Auctions and Appraisals in Anchorage. “We have some really cool items donated, such as breakfast with Governor Walker and a flight around the Pebble Mine site,” Copps-Wilson said. Other items include eight hours of welding, five hours of professional logo or website design and “a boatload of gear from Grundens.” Auction donations are still being accepted and can be made at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com The Expo takes place June 8 and 9 at the Naknek school. All events are free but visitor registration is encouraged. Last year’s Expo raised nearly $15,000 for Little Angels Childcare Academy and with more participants coming from far and wide, the organizers believe that this year’s tally will likely be even higher. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon fishermen should see strong prices

Forces are aligned for a nice payday for Alaska’s salmon fishermen. There is no backlog from last season in cold storages, a lower harvest forecast is boosting demand, prices for competing farmed salmon have remained high all year, and a devalued U.S. dollar makes Alaska salmon more appealing to foreign customers. “Over the past year the dollar has weakened 11 percent against the euro, 9 percent against the British pound, 5 percent against the Japanese yen, and 7 percent against the Chinese yuan. That makes Alaska salmon and other seafood more affordable to those top overseas customers,” said Garrett Evridge, a fisheries analyst at the McDowell Group. Last year Alaska seafood exports set records in terms of volume and value: 1.1 billion metric tons valued at $3.45 billion. Alaska salmon accounted for 22 percent of the volume and 36 percent of the value. On the home front, the weaker dollar will make imports from Chile, the largest farmed salmon importer to the U.S. followed by Norway, more expensive. That also will apply to imports of competing wild salmon from Canada where — if it materializes — a big sockeye run is predicted at nearby British Columbia. “About every four years we expect a relatively large harvest from the Fraser River run in B.C. In 2014 they produced about 83 million pounds of salmon and sockeye was the largest component,” Evridge said. “Likewise, a weaker dollar will make wild salmon imports from Russia and Japan more expensive for U.S. buyers.” Russia, which had grown from a $10 million customer of primarily pink salmon roe to $60 million in 2013, has banned all imports of U.S. seafood since 2014. Meanwhile, that country continues to send millions of tons of salmon and other seafood into the U.S. For example, 2017 trade data from the National Marine Fisheries Service show that Russia sent nearly 4 million pounds of frozen sockeye salmon to the U.S. valued at just more than $13 million, a $2 million increase over the previous year. Alaska’s salmon forecast for 2018 calls for a harvest of 149 million fish, down 34 percent from last year. Salmon starters Copper River salmon fishermen were beached for a third scheduled opener on May 24 due to concerns over low numbers of sockeyes. The first fishery on May 17 produced a catch of just 1,900 reds out of an expected 38,600. For the second opener on May 21 the sockeye catch was 3,900 fish – predicted landings were 80,000. The king salmon take from the two 12-hour fisheries totaled 4,000 fish. Fishery managers said it’s too soon to say if the low numbers indicate a delay or a much smaller run than expected. The breakup of the Copper River is behind schedule and water levels are low. They also blame cold ocean temperatures for the delay in sockeye returns. “We will know soon where we are in the early run, which usually peaks on June 1,” said longtime fisherman Jerry McCune. Latest prices at Copper River were reported at $14 per pound for king salmon and $10.50 for sockeyes after the second opener. That’s down from $15.65 for kings and $10.65 for reds (or higher), plus delivery bonuses on opening day. More salmon fisheries around the state will start kicking off within days, with other areas in Prince William Sound opening on May 31. Districts at Lower Cook Inlet open June 1 with Upper Cook Inlet fisheries starting on June 18. Togiak at Bristol Bay also opens on June 1 with other Bay districts opening on June 4; the Nushagak district opens on June 11. Chignik also is set to open for sockeyes on June 1. Yakutat gillnetters will get to fish starting June 7, as will salmon fishermen at the South Alaska Peninsula. Kodiak’s first opener for sockeyes is tentatively scheduled for June 9 but could open as early as June 1 depending on runs to the west side. Southeast Alaska drift gillnet openings start on June 17. Once again there is unlikely to be any commercial salmon fishing at the Kuskokwim due to a lack of buyers since the new plant at Platinum stopped operating a few years ago. Norton Sound opens to salmon fishing on June 25 and Kotzebue on July 10. At the Yukon River, commercial fishing for chums will be based on in-season run estimates. As many as 1.4 million chums could be available to Yukon fishermen this summer, and 1.2 million in the fall. Find links to regional salmon summaries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries page. Big chill in the Bay Salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay set a record last summer for chilling their fish. Despite an unexpected hit of one of the biggest sockeye runs in 20 years, 73 percent of the salmon deliveries by the region’s 1,447 driftnet boats were chilled, adding up to a record 130 million pounds of salmon. That’s a 5 percent increase over the previous year and compares to a 24 percent chilling rate from 2008. In addition, chilled raw product purchase amounts from the set net fleet increased by more than 33 percent. That good news came from the annual 2017 Processor Survey done by Anchorage-based Northern Economics for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The RSDA is operated and funded by the drift fleet with a one percent tax on their catches. The better fish quality meant most of the salmon shifted away from the low value canning line into pricier products. Last year a record 83 percent of the sockeyes were put up whole/headed and gutted, or as fillets; only 14 percent of the Bay’s sockeye salmon last summer went into cans. That compares to upwards of 75 percent being canned 20 years ago. When asked if there are any notable quality improvements gained from chilled, floated fish in RSW systems (refrigerated sea water) compared to chilled, non-floated fish in slush ice, all respondents said the quality of RSW salmon is typically better. Consistent chilling combined with lower brailer weights (500 to 600 pounds or less per bag) were reported as the best practices having the largest impact on the quality of delivered fish. So what’s the big deal about Bristol Bay salmon if you fish or live elsewhere? “The sockeye resource at Bristol bay is very unique because of its size. Typically, it’s 35 to 40 percent of the global sockeye supply, and it is a huge chunk of Alaska’s salmon value overall,” said fisheries economist Andy Wink. Last year, Bristol Bay’s catch of nearly 37 million sockeye accounted for fully half of the value of Alaska’s entire salmon fishery, and a similar harvest is expected this summer. The size of that harvest, Wink said, has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere. “Certainly in 2015 when the base price was just 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest, we saw coho prices come way down and sockeye prices in other areas were down quite a bit too,” he explained. “It’s a market moving fishery and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen even if they don’t fish in the Bay.” The 2017 sockeye salmon price at Bristol Bay averaged $1.02 a pound, a six-cent increase over the year before, and the price is expected to be higher this summer. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fight over America’s Finest vessel part of bigger processor battle

UNALASKA — The mothershippers are fighting with the groundfish shoreplants in a politicized Bering Sea commercial fishing tussle reaching all the way to Washington, D.C. The battle over Pacific cod pits the factory trawlers of the Amendment 80 fleet against Alaska shoreplants and local governments. And in February, it pitted two local governments against each other. A delegation of municipal and business leaders from Anacortes, Wash., traveled to the Aleutian Islands to ask the Unalaska City Council to reverse itself but didn’t change anybody’s mind. The brand spanking new factory trawler America’s Finest remains stranded in an Anacortes, Wash., shipyard, unable to fish in the United States because it hasn’t received a waiver from the Jones Act. The ship was built with too much foreign steel in its hull, a Jones Act violation, and it may be sold at a loss, probably to Russia. The Jones Act, which is intended to protect American ship-building and jobs, allows for no more than 1.5 percent foreign steel in a vessel. The America’s Finest has 7.5 percent. The visitors from Washington state asked the Unalaska City Council to stop asking the U.S. Congress to prohibit the stranded factory trawler from buying cod at sea in a practice known as mothershipping. Earlier, Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty sent the Alaska congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions on offshore cod deliveries from catcher vessels attached to any Jones Act waiver. Now, the state-of-the-art $74 million flatfish factory trawler commissioned by the company Fishermen’s Finest can’t fish in the U.S., unless it gets a waiver. If the vessel can’t fish in the U.S., the fishing company won’t pay, leaving the shipyard with a huge loss and major negative impacts on the Anacortes economy, especially the 375 “family wage” welder and other skilled jobs in Anacortes. The visiting delegation included the mayor of Anacortes, Laurie Gere; the president of Fisherman’s Finest, Dennis Moran; and Dick Nelson, the owner of the shipyard Dakota Creek Industries. Nelson said the error occurred after shipyard officials overlooked “fine print” in federal rules that he said were “almost impossible to find.” Mayor Gere said Unalaska and Anacortes share a common bond in the boat business, citing the various vessels that work in the Bering Sea that were built in Anacortes, including the Aurora, Auriga, Nordic Viking, and Starbound. “We truly are connected,” she said. Moran said that Unalaska’s request for cod restrictions could block the waiver. He asked the city to reconsider, and allow the issue to be worked out at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The floor of the U.S. Senate, he said, is a bad place to solve fisheries problems. Bigger battle The America’s Finest’s problems are part of a bigger “food fight,” as shoreplants and communities including Unalaska and the Aleutians East Borough oppose the fleet of about 17 Amendment 80 factory trawlers acting as motherships, buying cod from catcher boats offshore at the expense of local government revenues and shoreplant profits. (The groundfish fleet is known as the Amendment 80 fleet for the amendment in the Bering Sea fishery management plan that divided up the harvest for the many species among the bottom trawlers that target them.) The Amendment 80 flatfish factory trawlers are different from the larger American Fisheries Act pollock factory trawlers. The shoreplants were well represented at the city council meeting, sending in delegations of top officials and subordinates from Unisea, Westward, Alyeska and Trident. Don Goodfellow of Alyeska Seafoods in Unalaska said that he was sympathetic to Anacortes, but wanted to close a “loophole” in the American Fisheries Act to stop factory trawlers from mothershipping cod. Chris Riley of Trident Seafoods said the factory trawlers are already benefiting from rationalization through Amendment 80, which limits access into their fisheries. They harvest yellowfin sole, rex sole, Greenland turbot, Atka mackerel, Pacific Ocean perch, and idiots and other rockfish. He said rationalization programs aim to curb abuses of overcapitalization, now being perpetrated by the mothershippers. He said Trident strongly supports Congressional restrictions. “We think it needs to be done now,” Riley said. Sinclair Wilt of Alyeska Seafoods complained of cod catcher vessels stopping deliveries to shoreplants mid-season, and delivering offshore. That caused shoreplants to shut down cod processing lines early, he said. Speaking in support of the America’s Finest were Mark Horn of Sundance Stevedoring, of Unalaska, and Layton Wolf of Coastal Transportation, which operates a fleet of freighters with a big local dock. Wolf said Dakota Creek Industries is vital to maintaining the Bering Sea fishing fleet. Fishermen’s Finest Chief Vessel Officer Kristian Uri praised the new high-tech factory trawler as a necessary upgrade to the company’s aging two-boat fleet. Fisherman’s Finest owns two aging factory trawlers, the U.S. Intrepid and the American No. 1. The America’s Finest was intended to replace the two aging vessels, each about 40 years old, according to the company, which complains that Trident Seafood is in weak position to criticize Jones Act waivers. Both the company and Horn said Trident’s yacht, the Annandale, received a Jones Act waiver. The company calls the pleasure craft a “lobbying vessel.” Unalaska Mayor Kelty, with the city council’s approval, sent the state’s congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions which would keep the America’s Finest from receiving at-sea deliveries of Pacific cod from catcher vessels. “Alaska’s fishery dependent communities depend on catcher vessel deliveries to shoreplants,” Kelty wrote. During the pollock battles of the 1990s, the onshore and offshore sectors would encourage their various vendors and contractors to provide lobbying support. The pollock inshore-offshore battles ended with the passage of the American Fisheries Act, which established permanent quotas for the various sectors and guaranteed 50 percent of the pollock harvest would be delivered to shoreside plants. In a case of history repeating itself, one of Fisherman’s Finest’s local contractors in Unalaska is stepping up to the plate for the company. Horn, owner of Sundance Stevedoring, said the company is a major customer of his Unalaska cargo handling business. Horn said he’s spent $250,000 on new equipment to offload the state-of-the-art vessel. He views the restrictions sought by Kelty as part of an attempt to stifle competition by the big processing companies onshore. Unalaska Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson urged the denial of any waiver, saying the Jones Act protects communities. Horn countered that the community of Anacortes stands to lose big if the Dakota Creek shipyard fails should the vessel not be allowed to fish in the U.S. Horn said he’s been lobbying Congress in support of the America’s Finest. More recently, Horn, a Wasilla resident, said he plans to run for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s seat, because of the factory trawler issue. The factory trawler company has recently posted vessel jobs on local bulletin boards in Unalaska. The same proposed sideboard restrictions favored by shoreplants opposed to Amendment 80 factory trawlers serving as cod motherships are also under consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Fishermen’s Finest fires back Unalaska opposes a loss of local fish tax revenues from offshore cod processing. Kelty is also angry about Fisherman’s Finest’s efforts to repeal the state’s resource landing tax, a 3 percent tax imposed on factory trawlers and split between the state and local governments. “This tax has been very important to communities such as Unalaska that are impacted by the offshore fleet’s use of area jobs, roads, docks, airports, clinic and jails,” Kelty said in the letter to Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and U.S. Rep. Don Young. Fisherman’s Finest complained that their tax appeal was leaked to the news media in a statement from a Seattle public relations firm. “Regarding the tax issue, Fishermen’s Finest’s engagement with the Alaska Department of Revenue is, like all tax cases, confidential and not subject to public disclosure under Alaska statutes, and disclosure of any such information by an agent of the state subjects the perpetrator to a punishment of two years in prison and $5,000 fine,” the company stated. “Mayor Kelty knows this. Further, Mayor Kelty knows full well that he is using confidential tax documents that were illegally stolen from the files of the Alaska State Department of Revenue to unfairly advance his personal position on this issue. The entire matter is still subject to a protective order and Mayor Kelty knows perfectly well he should not be discussing it.” But the company does have its issues with the fish tax. “However, on the general subject of fish taxes: Mindful of the importance of the revenue from the landing tax to the State of Alaska, Fishermen’s Finest has advocated that the Fisheries Landing and Business Taxes be repealed in favor of a single Commercial Fisheries Marine Fuel Tax,” the company stated. “The current fisheries landing and business tax structure has deep flaws, including exorbitant compliance cost, rampant cheating, uncertain revenue due to variable fish pricing, and the fact that very little of the revenue actually goes to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to pay for fisheries management costs.” The statement went on to call the shoreside plants and the vessels the companies own a “cartel.” “The America’s Finest is an Amendment 80 replacement vessel and Amendment 80 is a rationalized fishery. These vessels are prohibited by existing law from mothershipping pollock in the Bering Sea, cod and pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. In any case, mothershipping requires the cooperation of independent catcher vessels. Eighty-three percent of the catcher-vessel fleet is either owned or controlled by foreign-owned and Seattle-based shoreside processor companies who would never deliver fish to an Amendment 80 mothership. “That means we’re only talking about 20 independent vessels, so there is no real threat to shoreside Alaska communities. The sideboards would force these vessels to deliver to the shoreside cartel, at lowball prices dictated by that cartel.” Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Federal study seeking input on long-term fisheries changes

The way that fisheries are managed determines the daily tempo for fishing families’ lives. Managers set the dates and times…the whens and wheres and whos … and the amounts that fishermen can catch. What happens to fishing families when any of the rules change? A new federal study aims to find out. “Those things are important for fishery managers to consider and try and integrate into their decision making, because there really are universal themes as far as how management changes have affected families,” said Marysia Szymkowiak, a social scientist for NOAA Fisheries based in Juneau. Over the past year, Szymkowiak has held scoping meetings in communities across Alaska to learn the impacts of fishing changes. The results, she said, will represent a history of how generations of families have adapted with the implementation of limited entry and catch share programs, and now with the decreasing abundance in certain key fisheries. “We’re getting into the thousands of years in terms of cumulative experiences and knowledge of Alaska’s fisheries,” Szymkowiak said. “It’s a wealth of information that we haven’t tapped into, and I feel so privileged to be able to talk with people who share heartfelt stories about families and the things that are built from that experience.” The project emerged from a 20-year review Szymkowiak co-authored about impacts of the halibut and sablefish fisheries that in 1995 switched from being open-to-all to an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, system that gave shares of the catch to fishermen based on their historical participation. “One of the things we heard was the different impacts on women who participated prior to IFQs,” Szymkowiak said. “One said the new program made the halibut season too long and she could no longer participate because it conflicted with her responsibilities as a mom.” Limited access to fisheries is a main theme voiced in scoping meetings, combined with environmental concerns affecting the stocks. “For some families there is less of a buffer when a stock declines in terms of their ability to diversify within fisheries,” Szymkowiak said. “This can really lead to stress within families, having to seek other employment, and can really change the social fabric of fishing communities.” Another theme, she said, is a strong sense of resilience and values that go beyond the economics of going fishing. “In terms of shaping young people and creating a work ethic and a sense of place and community, there is a cross generational participation in fisheries that is really unique,” she added. A final Fishing Families scoping meeting is set for Kodiak on June 4, after which Szymkowiak will begin compiling a report on the findings. Questions? Contact [email protected] Nearly $500 for a Copper River king Alaska’s salmon season got off to a slow and drizzly start on May 17 at the first opener at the Copper River. The low catches by more than 500 gillnetters pushed prices to unprecedented levels. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “blue sheet” of daily catches showed totals of just 3,000 king salmon and 2,000 sockeyes taken during the 12-hour opener. Bill Webber, a 51-year veteran highliner of the famous fishery, ended up with 10 king salmon and six sockeyes by closing time. “It’s not a great start to the season,” Webber said aboard his F/V Paradigm Shift while waiting for a slack tide to turn. If the fish tickets match the reports from the grounds, Thursday’s opener could be one of the slowest starts to the Copper River season since record keeping began 40 years ago, said Jeremy Botz, regional manager for ADFG in Cordova. The slim early catches had customers scrambling to source enough Copper River salmon for their “first fish of the season” celebrations, many promised within 24 hours of the salmon being caught. That pressure pushed prices to record levels. “The price wars are definitely going on due to the low production,” Webber said, adding that early price reports were $8.50 per pound for sockeyes and $13 a pound for king salmon. That compares to $8 and $11, respectively, during the first opener last year. The salmon prices ticked upwards all day, skyrocketing to $10.65 per pound for sockeyes and $15.65 for kings shortly after the 7 p.m. closure, “with a 65-cent dock bonus everywhere,” said a spokesperson for Alaska Wild Seafoods. “This opener is taking the cake on fish prices so far,” Webber added. Alaska Airlines made its first delivery of 16,000 pounds salmon to Seattle by early Friday morning. The airline celebrated its 9th annual Copper Chef Cook Off on the SeaTac tarmac, where chefs compete to prepare the best salmon recipe — in this case a 31-pound king salmon donated by Trident Seafoods. With the high prices at the end of opening day, that single “first fish” had a value of more than $485 at the Cordova docks. The Copper River salmon prices will drop off sharply after the early season hoopla fades, but the region’s famous fish will maintain some of the highest prices into the fall. The forecast calls for a Copper River harvest of about 950,000 sockeyes and 19,000 kings for the 2018 season. Football sidelines fish The North Pacific’s oldest and most popular marine trade show has been sidelined by Thursday night football. “Folks that have been with us for a long time know that holding Pacific Marine Expo at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle means that we have to come second to the NFL,” said Denielle Christensen, event organizer for Diversified Communications. The trade show, now in its 52nd year, has traditionally been held in November at the CenturyLink center the week before Thanksgiving. Last month organizers learned that a Thursday night game of the Seattle Seahawks versus Green Bay would spike those dates. “CenturyLink has been an excellent partner to us,” Christensen graciously added. “When they called us, they knew we were not going to be happy with our options. But they have always been clear with us that NFL and sports in general is their primary business.” The Expo team canvassed customers about holding the event either during Thanksgiving week or right before Christmas. “Most folks wanted us to stay closer to the usual time in November. So we’ve ended up at the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which is November 18, 19 and 20.” Christensen said she does not expect the date change to dampen Expo enthusiasm. “I don’t think it will have a particularly large impact on the exhibits or attendance just because of the loyalty this show has built up over the years. People really love it,” she said. Pacific Marine Expo is rated as one of the nation’s top trade shows and last year it attracted 500 exhibitors and over 6,000 visitors from 40 states and 24 countries. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon season set for May 17 start at Copper River

Alaska’s 2018 salmon season officially gets underway this week with the first 12-hour opener on May 17 for sockeyes and kings returning to the Copper River. The catch there this year calls for 19,000 kings and 942,000 sockeye salmon targeted by a fleet of more than 500 drift gillnetters. Here’s a primer of how fishery managers project the rest of Alaska’s salmon season may play out: Statewide, the 2018 salmon harvest is projected at 149 million fish, down 34 percent from the 2017 take of 226 million salmon. The shortfall this season stems from lower projections for hard-to-predict pink salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a total humpie harvest of just more than 70 million, down by half from last year. For sockeyes, a statewide catch of about 52 million is down by 1.8 million fish from 2017, which was the fifth-largest red salmon catch since 1970. By far, most of the sockeyes will come from Bristol Bay’s nine river systems where a harvest of 37.5 million is projected. For chum salmon, this year’s Alaska catch is pegged at 21 million, down by nearly 4 million from last year’s huge 25 million haul, the largest catch in 47 years. The 2018 coho catch should be nearly 6 million, an increase of 600,000 silvers from last season. For chinook salmon, a catch of 99,000 is projected in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where the numbers are determined by treaty with Canada. The Southeast harvest will be just 130,000 fish for all users, down 80,000 from last year. For commercial trollers the take is 95,700 taken from a few select areas. The salmon market outlook is good heading into the 2018 season. “Demand for Alaska salmon is fairly strong and competing farmed salmon prices are high. And despite catching over a billion pounds of salmon last year, there are no big inventory concerns,” said longtime fisheries economist Andy Wink of Wink Research and Consulting. Alaska sockeye could face some competition in its expanding fresh market sales from fish at the Fraser River in British Columbia. “Their runs have popped every four years and this is an up year for that system. That would bring a significant volume of fish to market this year,” Wink said, adding, “I’m not too concerned because demand for Alaska sockeye is robust and farmed prices are providing a lot of support.” The average sockeye price paid to Alaska salmon fishermen in 2017 was $1.13 per pound. The price for chinook salmon was $5.86; coho salmon at $1.19, pinks at 32 cents; and chum salmon averaged 66 cents per pound at the docks. The total value of the 2017 salmon fishery was nearly $680 million for Alaska’s fishermen, nearly a 67 percent increase over 2016. Clam diggers get down Razor clams from Alaska are a rare delicacy and are snapped up by restaurants on the west coast and Canada. The giant clams, which can reach more than 10 inches, are harvested by hand from a single 10-mile stretch of beach on the west side of Cook Inlet at the southwest corner of Polly Creek. The fishery, which opens in May and can run into August, is the only commercial razor clam fishery in Alaska. The diggers are allowed to take 350,000 to 400,000 pounds of clams in the shell this year and are paid 65 cents to 75 cents per pound. “About half of that is clam meat. Any broken clams go to the pet food market,” said Pat Shields, regional manager at ADFG in Soldotna. Coolers filled with whole clams are flown four to six times per day from the beach to the Pacific Alaska Shellfish plant in Nikiski, where they are immediately processed and sent to awaiting markets. “The processors also get 60 cents to 70 cents a pound to shuck them. Then they are vacuum packed and sent fresh or frozen to a lot of markets. It’s a really good product,” Shields said. Nearly all of the clam diggers out on the Cook Inlet flats are from out of state. “Most of the diggers are Hispanic from California,” Shields said. “It’s such hard work that we have a hard time finding local folks to participate.” “You put this big bag on your belt and you’re stooped over for hours at a time,” Shields explained. “Most of them use their hands or a very small spade. They dump them into a bucket and the clams get sorted in coolers.” Other Cook Inlet beaches have been closed to clam digging since 2014 due to a drop off in the stocks. More recently state fishery biologists have found encouraging signs of lots of juvenile razors signaling a potential rebound of the delicious clams. Cash for tags Hook a sablefish (black cod) with a bright orange or green tag and you would win cash. State fish managers awarded $3,000 to seven lucky winners in cash prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000. Their names were drawn by lottery among all those who had returned tags over the past year. Fishery biologists at ADFG have been tagging sablefish in Southeast Alaska since 1979 to learn more about the fish’s movement, growth, and abundance. The farthest north returned sablefish tag was from St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea; the farthest south came from Humboldt, Calif. But for the most part, most sablefish stay close to home. “You have your sablefish that are like I love my home, I’m just going to stay here,” said Naomi Bargmann at ADFG in Sitka. “That is about 85 to 90 percent of the fish that we get in Chatham (Strait), they stay,” she added. “The rest of them will pick up like Magellan and go explore other places.” One of the oldest tags was 34 years old, returned in 2013, and nearly 35,000 have been recovered in all. This month 7,000 more tagged sablefish were released, bringing the total to more than 140,000 tags since the project began. To qualify for the lottery, the returned tags must include the latitude and longitude where the sablefish was caught and the capture date and method. Anyone who returns a tag receives a T-shirt. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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