Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Salmon prices up across state, but fish are smaller

Early prices to Alaska salmon fishermen are trickling in and as anticipated, they are up across the board. That will give a nice boost to the economic base of both fishing communities and the state from fish taxes, fees and other assessments. About one-third (62 million) of Alaska’s projected catch of 190 million salmon had crossed the docks by July 16 at the halfway point of the fishing season. Prices paid to fishermen vary based on buyers, gear types and regions, and bonuses and post season pay adjustments won’t be finalized until early next year. Here’s an early snapshot of average base prices from major processors at this point in the season: At Bristol Bay, the price to fishermen was boosted to $1.25 by OBI Seafoods, topping the $1.10 Peter Pan posted in June before the start of the fishery, and up from 70 cents last year. Kodiak fishermen were getting $1.45 to $1.50 for sockeyes and $1.75 at Southeast. That compares to a statewide average of just 76 cents per pound for sockeye salmon last year. A 2021 catch of 46.6 million sockeyes is expected for Alaska; the total so far has topped 44 million. Pink salmon were averaging $0.35 cents a pound for fishermen. An Alaska harvest of 124.2 million pinks is expected this summer, nearly 49 percent higher than last year. The statewide pink salmon price in 2020 averaged 30 cents per pound. Chums were averaging 50 cents per pound for Kodiak fishermen, twice last year’s price, and 85 cents at Southeast Alaska, compared to 45 cents last year. The average chum price in 2020 was 43 cents per pound. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, troll-caught kings at Southeast were averaging $6.73 per pound, compared to a statewide average of $5.07 last year. With average weights at 11 pounds, each chinook was again worth more than one barrel of Alaska crude oil. ($74.03 vs. $73.48 as of July 16). Coho salmon catches will begin adding up in August but troll caught silvers at Southeast were paying fishermen a whopping $2.50 per pound for all sizes. That compares to $1.74 at the Panhandle last year and a statewide average for silvers at $1.17. Smaller sockeyes The run of sockeye salmon returning home to Bristol Bay could set a record at 66 million fish. The Bay-wide catch has topped 36 million, but the reds are smaller than in past years. The average size this summer is 4.5 pounds compared to 5.1 pounds last year, said Dan Lesh with McKinley Research Group. Still, the sockeyes are heading into an eager market. “Supply is low and there is strong demand for premium seafoods across the board,” he said. “People have more money and spending at foodservice is at pre-pandemic levels.” It’s “so far, so good” as far as putting a smaller fish on the plate, Lesh said, adding that it could mean adjustments for various salmon products. Bristol Bay reds aren’t the only ones shrinking. Chinook size has declined the most at 8 percent; 3.3 percent in cohos, 2.4 percent in chum salmon; and a 2.1 percent shrinkage in sockeyes overall. That’s based on 60 years of measurements from 12.5 million Alaska salmon, excluding pinks, by Nature Communications that compared average body lengths before 1990 and after 2010. Sleeping at sea, or not Finding time to sleep is one of the biggest challenges during a fishing trip, especially during limited openers. The pressure to bait and pull pots or lines and handle nets can be unrelenting. “The less you sleep, the more money you make in some sense. That’s a really hard thing to overcome. Because everybody wants to make more money,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association at Sitka. Sleep deprivation leads to more accidents and worsens physical performance, he told KDLL in Kenai “The military alone has done volumes on this because of performance of personnel in the military. But not much has been done in the commercial fishing industry. And I think that’s the big thing,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve had one person tell me it’s not a problem.” AMSEA has partnered with national organizations for a two year project with 200 randomly selected fishermen in Alaska, Oregon and the Northeast. The group will track and hear fishermen’s concerns about their sleep patterns and possible effects on their safety and health. Funding comes from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH spokesperson Julie Sorensen told National Fisherman that fishermen have said they wonder how sleep deprivation will impact their cognitive ability as they get older. Many are curious about energy drinks, naps, diet, and other sleep disrupters. Find links to the project called “Assessments of Sleep Deprivation and Associated Health and Cognitive Impacts in Commercial Fishermen” at www.necenter.org/ Expo is back! Pacific Marine Expo is back in person after Covid forced it to cancel last year. Now in its 55th year, the trade show is set for Nov. 18-20 at the Lumen Field Event Center in Seattle. Expo is on track to host about 500 vendors and the timing will attract even more visitors, said Bob Callahan, vice president of Diversified Communications Group and Expo director. “What’s in our favor this year is whenever the show dates are just prior to Thanksgiving, it’s usually one of our most productive shows and our exhibitors are very happy about it,” he said. “The dates are a jumping off point for our Alaskan attendees that are traveling for Thanksgiving,” he added. “They spend a few days at the show, and then they either stay in Seattle, or they travel throughout the country to visit family for the holiday weekend.” “Having a face to face event, I think, is coming out stronger after COVID, than people perceived before,” he added. This year’s Expo has another good lure. “This year is a bonus because the Seahawks play on Sunday, the day after the show closes,” Callahan said. “They play the Cardinals. So we’ll be giving out Seahawks tickets over the three days.” See more at www.pacificmarineexpo.com Fish bit Halibut prices paid out at $7.25/$7.65/$7.85 to fishermen at Homer in mid-July and $7.05/$7.30/$7.55 at Seward, posted the Fish Ticket. At the grocery store U.S. fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable seafood sales reached $585 million in June 2021. That was a 5.3 percent drop from 2020, but sales surged nearly 44 percent this June compared to 2019, reported SeafoodSource. For the first six months of 2021, fresh and frozen seafood posted a mid-year increase versus 2020, “with increases in household penetration, trips and spend per trip,” 210 Analytics Principal Anne-Marie Roerink said. Ambient (shelf-stable) seafood sales, meanwhile, have declined over the past six months. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ‘Unprecedented’ catches at Bay; Yukon chums a no-show

“Unprecedented” is how fishery managers are describing sockeye catches at Bristol Bay, which topped 1 million fish for seven days straight at the Nushagak District last week and neared the 2 million-mark on several days. By July 9, Alaska’s statewide sockeye salmon catch was approaching 32 million, of which more than 25 million came from Bristol Bay. The only other region getting good sockeye catches was the Alaska Peninsula where nearly 4.6 million reds were landed so far. The Alaska Peninsula also was far ahead of all other regions for pink salmon catches with over 3.3 million taken out of a total statewide tally of just over 5.4 million so far. Pink salmon run in distinct two-year cycles with odd years being stronger, and the preseason forecast calls for a total Alaska harvest of 124.2 million pinks this summer. The timing for peak pink harvests is still several weeks away; likewise for chums, and most cohos will arrive in mid-August. Alaska salmon managers are projecting the 2021 statewide salmon catch to top 190 million fish, a 61 percent increase versus last year’s take of about 118 million salmon. By July 9, the statewide catch for all species had topped 41 million fish. There’s still lots of fishing left to go and so far, the most sluggish catches were coming out of Southeast where only 258,000 salmon were landed by last week. On the Yukon River, summer chum salmon returns are the lowest on record and state managers will request a disaster declaration for the second year in a row. Norton Sound primes for pinks Chums also are a bust at Norton Sound where the runs have dropped to less than 5 percent of what is typical each summer. “Right now, we don’t see any chum salmon openings. Something happened in the ocean that really knocked them down for this stretch,” said Jim Menard, regional manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome. Menard told KNOM that low chum runs have been occurring throughout Western Alaska in general, and it could be a side effect of the high numbers of pink salmon that have been surging into the region. “Five years running we’ve had incredible pink salmon runs. And the even-numbered year pink runs in Norton Sound are a lot bigger than the odd-numbered years,” Menard said, adding that pink returns to the region’s rivers have skyrocketed to well more than 10 million fish. The shift in fish means a small fleet of Norton Sound purse seiners will test the waters for a new pink salmon fishery this summer. It will be a first experiment for seine gear fishing for humpies so far North, and Icicle Seafoods is lined up to buy all the pinks that the local boats pull in. “If it’s possible to target pinks without adversely affecting the important subsistence and gillnet fleets, this pink salmon fishery warrants pursuing,” Menard said. As far as the appearance of so many pinks, fish managers say it’s all about the food. “They’re definitely the colonizers, for sure,” said Sam Rabung, director of the Commercial Fisheries Division at ADFG. “I’ve had calls from people on the North Slope asking about fisheries because pink salmon are showing up there. I don’t know that they’re going to persist because it still freezes down up there, and so the eggs that are deposited in those rivers won’t generally survive. But they’re trying.” As ocean waters warm, Rabung said it changes the makeup of the plankton the pinks feed upon and the fish are following their healthier food sources northward. “As the warmer water moves north, the warm water copepods, which are one of the main foods for salmon, move north with it. The cold water copepods have a high lipid, high fat content, so they’re very energy dense and have a lot of bang for the buck for eating on them,” he explained. Warm water plankton don’t. And because salmon are a cold water species, he said warm waters also boost their metabolism, meaning they need more food to grow. Rabung pointed to the 2018 Gulf of Alaska cod collapse that science has linked with a preceding multi-year, warm water “blob.” The resulting food imbalance wiped out two cod year classes, and water temperatures that topped 60 degrees permeated to the ocean bottom and prevented cod eggs from hatching. A changing ocean brings big challenges, he said, and paying attention to the impacts on fish can help managers better react. “That’s a tough ship to turn around and it’s probably not going to reverse course in my career,” he said. “But what we can do is understand what the changes are and know what’s happening with the stocks and try to not exacerbate any negative effects by not being responsive in our management.” In other fisheries: Catches for Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska were going slow so far for 163 boats, but prices of $4.20 per pound are more than double last year’s. The crab fishery will run through mid-August and reopen in October. Kodiak crabbers were getting $4.25 for their Dungeness, also more than double. Norton Sound opened for king crab on June 15 with a 290,000-pound catch limit. Concerns over the depleted stock resulted in no buyers and only one participant who is selling crab locally. Prince William Sound’s pot shrimp fishery remains open until mid-September with a catch limit of 70,000 pounds. A lingcod fishery opened in the Sound on July 1 for a catch of nearly 33,000 pounds. Lingcod also opened at Cook Inlet with a 52,500 pound catch limit. The Inlet also opened July 1 for rockfish with a 150,000-pound harvest. Cook Inlet also has a harvest for kelp washed up on beaches set at 86,000 pounds. A scallop fishery opened on July 1 from Yakutat to the Bering Sea with a harvest of 345,000 pounds of shucked meats. Alaska’s halibut catch was nearing 7.8 million pounds out of a nearly 19 million-pound catch limit. Continuing demand for fresh fish has kept prices well over $5.75 a pound at most ports, reaching $7.50 across the board at Homer. Prices for sablefish (black cod) also were on the rise in five weight categories. The weekly Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats &Permits showed prices ranging from $1.10 for two-pounders to $6.25 per pound for 7-ups. Sablefish catches were approaching 27 million pounds out of a 43.4 million pound quota. Fishing for pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish also continues throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Harbor views Alaska has 90 ports along its rivers and marine waterways from tiny to huge, according to the World Port Source. Thousands of fishermen and other mariners rely on ports and harbors to help maintain their livelihoods; but how do they feel about their care and maintenance? A new project aims to find out. “It’s gauging how clean people think the harbors are, why they are that way and how we can make them cleaner,” said Tav Ammu, an Alaska Sea Grant Fellow who also skippers a boat at Bristol Bay. Ammu has created a project to survey fishermen’s perceptions on pollution and waste during his down time at the docks this summer in Dillingham. He will repeat the survey at Ninilchik on the Kenai Peninsula in the fall. Ammu told KDLG he became interested in water quality and conservation while serving in the Navy. “I did not feel there was enough attention towards cleanliness and sustainability and conservation. So, I got a master’s degree in marine systems and policies with the hope to bridge the gap between me who fishes and science or policy makers,” he said. Ammu’s goal is to get baseline data on how people in the fishing community perceive harbor cleanliness and water quality, turn the survey results into a report and share it at the Alaska Harbor Master Forum in Anchorage in October. Expo call After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific Marine Expo will be back in Seattle on Nov. 18-20 at the Lumen Field Event Center. The call is out for speakers on topics relevant to mariners. Deadline for submissions is July 16. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com for more information. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: New app aims to track real time marine observations

Fishermen are the ears and eyes of the marine ecosystem as a changing climate throws our oceans off kilter. Now a new phone app is making sure their real life, real time observations are included in scientific data. The new Skipper Science smartphone app, released on June 18, comes from the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea as a way “to elevate the thousands of informal-yet-meaningful environmental observations by fishermen and others into hard numbers for Alaska’s science-based management,” said Lauren Divine, Director of Ecosystem Conservation for St. Paul’s Tribal government, whose team created and owns the dataset for the app. “How do we take what has historically been called anecdotal and create some structure around it that is rigorous and has scientific repeatability?” Divine said to KCAW in Sitka. “There is a vast body of deep knowledge that fishermen hold from their experience on the water, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, that they use for decision making and risk evaluation and to execute a likelihood on the water. And we have very much underutilized that knowledge for years, especially here in the North Pacific,” she added in a phone interview. The free app, which works on or off the internet, is an offshoot of an Indigenous Sentinels Network started 16 years ago at St. Paul Island to monitor wildlife and the environment in the Bering Sea. To broaden its reach, St. Paul partnered with advocacy group SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP. Through its surveys and other outreach SHIP quantifies what’s regarded by scientists as fishermen’s “informal observations” and shares the information with managers and decision makers. Troller Eric Jordan of Sitka, who has been out on the Southeast waters for 71 years, agrees the grounds truth should be in the database. “We have perspectives that go back decades as persons that are dependent on reading correctly what’s going on. We are tuned in to the utmost degree. We know which bird is feeding on what fish, the water temperature, the depth, the bottom structure, all those things,” he said about the SkipperScience community. “And we’re trying to project into the future quicker than almost anybody else. We know stuff that is helpful to everybody as they’re trying to understand the changes, because we’re not just there to understand, we’re there to adapt.” Call for fish board seat The call is out for nominees to fill one seat on the state Board of Fisheries. The opening stems from the Alaska Legislature on May 13 giving a thumbs down to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Limited Partnership. Nearly 1,000 Alaskans spoke out against Williams’ appointment. According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days. “The governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection,” Deputy Director of Communications Jeff Turner wrote in an email, adding that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.” United Fishermen of Alaska said that Dunleavy “is open to considering applicants from all across Alaska.” By March 2021, the board was scheduled to have finished up 275 proposals for Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish fisheries. But the normal meeting cycle was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting in October of 2021 it will hold a two-day work session followed by meetings for those other regional fisheries in November through March of next year. Then in October 2022, the board will turn its attention to Bristol Bay and Chignik, the Bering Sea, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula regions. “The governor’s nominee will serve on the board in the interim until the legislature, in joint session, makes a decision,” said board director Glenn Haight. The board regulates commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in Alaska state waters, meaning out to three miles. Currently, only one of the seven board seats is held by a person from a coastal region: John Jensen of Petersburg. Alaska seafood love A new national survey revealed that 26 percent of U.S. consumers said they purchased seafood for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half plan to increase their intake and nearly 74 percent plan to continue cooking seafood at home. That’s according to a 2021 Power of Seafood report by Dataessential which tracks national market trends. The report was compiled for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Seafood saw unprecedented growth in grocery sales at nearly 30 percent at the height of the pandemic, far exceeding all other food categories. The top reasons? It’s healthier than red meat and people said they prefer the taste. Topping the seafood list of favorites was salmon and by a 5-to-1 margin, responders said they prefer wild over farmed. Having less harmful additives was a top reason they prefer wild-caught seafood. More than 60 percent said they want to know where their seafood comes from and that it is sustainably sourced. More than 70 percent of 1,000 responders said they are more likely to buy seafood when they see the Alaska logo, and they are willing to pay more for it. That holds true in Japan where another ASMI survey of 1,000 seafood eaters showed that nearly 80 percent said they were more inclined to buy products bearing the Alaska brand. The responders said their favorite things about Alaska seafood were (translated from Japanese) wild deliciousness (63 percent), great nature (49 percent), clean ocean (45 percent) and freshly frozen (44 percent). “We had to adjust our strategy and tactics in all of our markets which were hit hard by the pandemic and required new data to guide our efforts,” said ASMI Senior Director of Global Marketing and Strategy Hannah Lindoff. Fish gets gutted Meanwhile, in the ongoing state budget battle, Dunleavy vetoed $3 million in federal CARES funding for ASMI that he gushed over on June 25. “Alaska’s seafood industry is a strong pillar of our economy and my administration is committed to supporting ASMI’s urgent and substantial need following unplanned industry-wide COVID-19 costs,” Dunleavy said on his website. “No one does seafood like the Last Frontier with its world-class stocks of fresh, nutritious, and wild protein. Our fleets have weathered the storm of COVID, now it’s time to keep delivering a piece of Alaska on a dish around the globe,” the governor added. ASMI is a partnership between the state and the Alaskan seafood industry and is funded by a tax on processors and some federal dollars. It receives no state funding. The $3 million was part of a $50 million Alaska portion for seafood-related relief in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020 by Congress. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Crab prices explode along with rising demand

Crab has been one of the hottest commodities since the COVID-19 pandemic forced people in 2020 to buy and cook seafood at home, and demand is even higher this year. Crab is now perceived as being more affordable when compared to the cost to enjoy it at restaurants, said global seafood supplier Tradex, and prices continue to soar. That’s how it’s playing out for Dungeness crab at Kodiak and hopefully, at Southeast Alaska where the summer fishery got underway on June 15. Kodiak’s fishery opened on May 1 and 76,499 pounds have been landed so far by just eight boats, compared to 29 last year. The Kodiak price this season was reported as high as $4.25 per pound for the crab that weigh just more than two pounds on average. That compares to a 2020 price of $1.85 for a catch of nearly 3 million pounds, the highest in 30 years, with a fishery value of nearly $5.3 million. The pulls are skimpy though, averaging just two crab per pot. Kodiak’s Dungeness stocks are very cyclical and the fishery could be tapping out the tail end of a peak. Managers say this summer should tell the tale. Southeast’s summer Dungeness could see 190 or more permit holders on the grounds. Crabbers won’t know until June 29 how much they can pull up for the two-month fishery after managers assess catch and effort information. The fishery, which occurs primarily around Petersburg and Wrangell, will reopen again in October. Last season’s combined summer and fall fisheries produced nearly 6.7 million pounds at the Panhandle, just shy of the Dungeness record of 7.3 million pounds set in 2002 and more than double the 10-year average. Southeast crabbers averaged just $1.72 per pound last season, down by more than a dollar for a 2020 fishery value of $11.5 million. Elsewhere, California crabbers fetched record prices for their Dungeness crab in a fishery that saw low landings and a shortened season that ran from January 11 through early May. The fleet of 359 crabbers fetched a record $6.02 per pound for a catch of just 3.6 million pounds, down 10 million pounds from the previous year. The value of this year’s California fishery was $18.7 million, down from nearly $46 million in 2020. At Las Vegas, a major crab market for the hotel and casino industries, television station KTNV said that Dungeness and snow crab legs have gone up between 17 percent and 33 percent in the past three months, reported Undercurrent News. Alaska king crab legs have climbed 90 percent, said John Smolen, owner of the Crab Corner Maryland Seafood House in Las Vegas “We used to sell our Alaskan king crab legs for $34.99 a pound and we’re currently selling them for $59.99 a pound, which is still a very tight margin,” Smolen said, adding that he believes the rise is the result of the pandemic depleting wholesale inventories. “Until we can get our production way back up ahead of our usage and build up a reserve supply, I don’t see the prices changing anytime soon,” Smolen said. Crab market expert Les Hodges added that “in order to maintain their gains, retailers must compete with the rapid opening of the food service sector in addition to a strong international demand for a resource that is limited in supply. Prices have been driven to all-time highs with more increases coming in the future for crab.” Scallops are coming One of Alaska’s smallest and priciest fisheries gets underway on July 1: weathervane scallops. The fleet size is limited by federal licensing to 9 permits, but just two boats take part in the fishery that spans from Yakutat to the Bering Sea and can run through February. “It’s pretty specialized and it’s not something you can get into easily,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “It takes a fair bit of institutional knowledge and also specialized gear. Lots of people have some Tanner crab pots lying around in their back yards, but not many have a 15-foot New Bedford scallop dredge.” The scallop fishery also is very labor intensive as it includes catching and processing. “It takes a lot of manpower, with crews of 12 people that are shucking by hand. Every Alaska scallop you’ve ever seen was shucked by hand,” Nichols said. This year the two boats will compete for a slightly increased catch of 345,000 pounds of shucked meats, which are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed. Scallops are a wildly popular delicacy and can pay fishermen more than $10 per pound, depending on size and grade. Weathervane scallops are the largest in the world and it takes them about five years to reach a marketable shell size of about five inches. Some can measure 10 inches across! The boats drop big dredges comprising four-inch rings to keep out smaller sizes. They make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery is co-managed with the federal government and has 100 percent observer coverage. The total first wholesale revenue for Alaska scallops last season was estimated at nearly $2.36 million meaning an average crew share of $41,274. That pales in comparison to the Atlantic sea scallop fishery, the world’s largest and most valuable. In 2019, landings at ports in primarily Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey totaled over 60.6 million pounds of shucked meats valued at nearly $570 million. This year’s Atlantic harvest is projected to decrease to around 40 million pounds. Prices for the largest sizes (U10s and U12s, meaning the number of meats that make up one pound) topped $30 per pound at recent New Bedford auctions, according to National Fisherman. Salmon helps healthy hearts A global study concludes that there are some big differences between eating farmed salmon and wild, and the way it’s prepared really matters. The Journal of the American Medical Association pooled data from four international studies of nearly 200,000 people to make the connection between eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the risk of getting and dying from heart disease. For those with a bad heart, JAMA concluded that eating two to four, 4-ounce servings of salmon per week reduces the risk of dying by a whopping 36 percent. The researchers touted salmon as delivering some of the highest doses of omega-3’s along with protein, selenium, B12 and vitamin D. And they noted some big differences between farmed and wild salmon. A wild salmon fillet has 131 fewer calories and half the fat as the same amount of farmed fish. While farmed salmon can have slightly more omega-3s, they also have 20 percent more saturated fat. The JAMA study also referred to the wide use of antibiotics in most farmed fish growing operations, citing higher levels of “persistent organic pollutants” that are resistant to biodegrading. Levels of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, for example, are five to 10 times higher in farmed salmon than in wild fish. The adverse effects of PCBs were so widespread the chemical was banned in the U.S. in 1979, but most farmed fish comes into the U.S. from other countries that don’t have the same restrictions. How the fish is cooked also really matters. The JAMA study said a weekly diet of fried fish increases heart attack risk by 17 percent as it cancels out the healthy fat benefits of the fish. It’s more proof that you are what you eat. Seafood votes Weathervane scallops, king salmon, pollock and king crab are the four seafood favorites selected in a mock election that the state Division of Elections is using to give Alaskans a chance to practice the new ranked-choice voting method next year. Voters next November will get one ballot and rank several candidates for a given office by their preference; the top four will advance and the one getting the majority of votes will win. To test the new system from June 1 to 15, nearly 4,000 Alaskans voted from a selection of 18 seafood choices to determine the top four favorites. The winner will be chosen in the final seafood election on June 30. And just as in the national elections, the seafood election faced allegations of vote tampering. Read a great write up of the attempted seafood skewering by Liz Ruskin of Alaska Public media called “Nice try, pollock: How Alaska’s most prolific fish almost won the state’s ranked choice mock election.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact msfish[email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: New non-profit takes over for mariculture task force

Alaskans who are engaged in or interested in mariculture are invited to become founding members in a new group that will advance the growing industry across the state. The newly formed Alaska Mariculture Alliance is a private non-profit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Walker and re-authorized in 2018 by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The task force will sunset on June 30. “One of the priority recommendations was to create a long term entity that would coordinate and support development of a robust and sustainable mariculture industry to produce shellfish and aquatic plants for the long-term benefit of Alaska’s economy, environment and communities,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and will do so for the AMA. Decker clarified that Alaska mariculture encompasses farming of shellfish and aquatic plants and also includes enhancement and restoration projects. There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska that when combined with 35 pending new applications, comprise 1631.3 acres, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Some growers also are interested in sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and abalone. Twenty-eight growers are making sales so far, which in 2020 dropped to $1.08 million, down from $1.5 million, with Pacific oysters making up about 80 percent of the value. Sales of ribbon and sugar kelp doubled, topping 230,000 pounds valued at nearly $200,000, a nice jump from $60,000 in 2019. “Seaweed is a newer industry even for the U.S. so there’s still a lot to learn,” Decker said. “One of the big challenges is we really need people and companies to jump into seaweed processing. That’s the real bottleneck right now; for the number of people who are interested in farming we need more companies doing the processing.” Besides its wide usage in foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fertilizers and industrial products, seaweeds also benefit the planet, said Sam Rabung, director of ADFG’s Commercial Fisheries Division, who has more than 35 years of experience in mariculture. “We’re dealing with ocean acidification and one of the main things that drives seaweed or kelp growth is extracting carbon from the water. It can have what they call a halo effect with lower acidic levels in areas that have high levels of seaweed growth. That benefits everything,” he said. The newly forming Alliance has a good foundation, Decker added, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. “It’s exciting to be in on the ground floor of something new. It can also be frustrating because there’s no written book and in some cases, we’re learning as we go. But we have our eyes wide open and it’s an exciting time for Alaska mariculture. So, if you care about this and want to have an impact, it’s important to get a seat at the table” she said. Ultimately, the goal is to grow a $100 million industry by 2038. Decker said some believe that value is conservative due to increasing demand for shellfish and sea plants. “It’s a matter of putting the pieces in place and everybody rowing in the same direction. That means the state administration, the legislature, the industry and even the public. You must have public support for being able to use public lands on public waters. And so far, we have that for the most part,” Decker said. Alaska shellfish/seaweed harvesters, processors, nursery or hatchery operators, tribes, community development groups, researchers and cities/boroughs are invited to become full founding AMA members at $75. The dues for associate members, including businesses or non-profits, is $50. Applications are due by June 23. Send to [email protected] or Alaska Mariculture Task Force, P.O. Box 2223, Wrangell, AK 99929. Ranking seafood instructs voting Alaskans opted in 2020 for ranked-choice voting as the way to elect candidates starting next year. Voters will get one ballot and rank several candidates for a given office by their preference; the one getting the majority of votes wins. State election officials are using Alaska seafood to test out the new voting method in a mock online primary. Voters can select from 18 choices; so far, Alaska pollock, scallops, king crab and halibut are leading the pack. “At the close of polls at 5 p.m. on June 15, we will tally the top four, and then we will create a general ranked-choice voting election,” Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai told Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin. As in a real election, if no seafood wins a majority of votes in round one, the last place finisher is eliminated and those votes are given to the remaining three until one seafood favorite gets a majority. “People will be able to see how that works, what the ballot is going to look like, and familiarize themselves with what to expect when they go to the polls And they’ll be able to see how the various rounds of tabulation work,” Fenumiai said. Although the seafood mock election is online, voters in next August’s primary will cast ballots in normal ways: in person, or absentee by mail or fax. “In the primary, you’re still going to get one ballot, there will no longer be multiple ballots to pick from, and you will still be selecting one choice for each race that appears on your ballot,” she explained. Salmon slump Salmon catches throughout the North Pacific dropped last year to the lowest levels in nearly four decades. That’s according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, which each year tracks salmon abundances and catches as reported by its five member countries: Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. The Commission also coordinates research and enforcement. Based on 2020 commercial catches, Pacific salmon abundance at 322.5 million fish was the lowest since 1982 and compares to a total take that topped 563 million fish in 2019, and 651 million salmon in 2018. Russia took 48 percent of the salmon catch last year, followed by the U.S. at 41 percent with all but about 5,000 tons of that coming from Alaska. Just 10 percent of the 2020 salmon catch was taken by Japan followed by Canada at 1 percent and less by Korea. Pink salmon comprised 46 percent of the five nations’ catches by weight, followed by chums at 27 percent and sockeye salmon at 23 percent. Cohos comprised 3 percent of the harvest, with Chinook salmon at less than 1 percent. The total 2020 North American salmon catch of nearly 556 million pounds was the lowest since 1977. The sockeye catch of just over 236 million pounds compares to a five-year average of 294 million pounds. For chums, a catch of 67.3 million pounds was a drop from nearly 223 million pounds taken in 2017. The total combined salmon catch for Washington, Oregon, and California of 9.9 million pounds in 2020 was the lowest in the Commission’s data base. For salmon that got their start in hatcheries, total releases by the five nations at about 5 billion fish have been stable since 1993. The U.S. led with 39 percent of total releases; 31 percent were from Japan, followed by Russia at 25 percent, 4 percent from Canada and less than 1 percent were released from Korea. Of the combined hatchery releases 65 percent were chum salmon and 25 percent were pinks, followed by Chinook and sockeye releases at 4 percent. Eat more fish! Americans are eating more seafood and it’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing. The latest data compiled by the National Fisheries Institute from the “Fisheries of the United States” report shows that Americans ate 19.2 pounds of seafood on average in 2019, an increase of two-tenths of a pound over 2018. Shrimp remained as the top favorite with Americans eating 4.7 pounds per capita. Salmon held on to the second spot at 3.1 pounds, up more than a half-pound. Canned tuna ranked number 3, with Alaska pollock and tilapia in the top five. Rounding out the top 10 were cod, catfish, crab, Pangasius and clams. The numbers will certainly be much higher when seafood consumption in 2020 is measured, as Americans opted for fish and shellfish in droves during the Covid pandemic due to its proven health benefits. And where in the world do they eat the most seafood? At the Maldives in the Indian Ocean where people consumed nearly 366 pounds per capita. The landlocked countries of Afghanistan and Tajikistan each showed the least seafood consumption at well below a quarter of a pound. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon buyers eager to replenish depleted inventories

Eager buyers are awaiting Alaska salmon from fisheries that are opening almost daily across the state and it’s easy to track catches and market trends for every region. Fishery managers forecast a statewide catch topping 190 million salmon this year, or 61 percent higher than the 2020 take of just over 118 million. But globally, the supply of wild salmon is expected to be down amid increased demand. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2021 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2020 Season, provides breakdowns for all species by region. And salmon catches are updated daily at ADFG’s Blue Sheet, found at its commercial fisheries web page. They also post weekly summaries of harvests broken out by every region along with comparisons to past years. Predictions for the 2021 mix of fish call for a catch of 269,000 chinook salmon, up slightly from 2020, but 25 percent below the 10-year average. The projected sockeye harvest of 46.6 million will help replenish low inventories that saw strong export prices in early 2021 and “a continued promising market,” said Dan Lesh, a fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group who compiles weekly updates during the season for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The 2021 coho forecast of 3.8 million is 56 percent higher than 2020, and similar to the 10-year average. Coho represent only around 5 percent of Alaska’s salmon harvest value. A catch this year of 15.3 million chum salmon represents a 23 percent drop from the 10-year average, but a nearly 80 percent increase from the dismal 2020 harvest of 8.5 million. Japan is the main destination for chum roe, which saw increased prices to $17.83 per pound in the third trimester of 2020, up 42 percent from the previous year. This year’s pink salmon harvest is pegged at 124.2 million, mostly from catches at Prince William Sound, Southeast and Kodiak. This summer, the Nome Nugget reports that Icicle ​Seafoods plans to bring a processing vessel as well as four or five fishing tenders to buy pinks from local fishermen. Icicle’s headquarters are in Seattle, but the company has roots in Alaska​ processing groundfish, primarily in the Dutch Harbor area and herring in Kodiak and Togiak. Last year’s statewide pink salmon catch of 60.7 million fetched an average dock price of 33 cents per pound, the lowest in five years and a drop from 40 cents in 2019. Other per pound salmon prices to fishermen in 2020 (with 2019 prices per pound in parentheses) averaged $4.74 for chinook ($4.36); $1.06 for sockeye ($1.61); $1.24 for coho ($1.13); and 46 cents for chums (54 cents). Those prices come from the newly released Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports from Alaska processors who are required to provide purchasing and sales reports for all species by April 1 of the following year. The COAR data can be found at ADF&G’s commercial fisheries web page under Statistics and Data. Salmon saint Salmon has its own heavenly patron: Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his saint-hood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle. Legend has it that the king suspected his wife of having an affair because she had given one of her rings to a court favorite. The king took the ring when the man was sleeping and threw it far out into the River Clyde. When he returned home, the king angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it. The queen beseeched Kentigern to help her. He took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river and quickly caught a salmon and cut it open. Amazingly, the ring was found in the salmon’s belly. The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored. From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day his figure and symbols, including salmon, make up that city’s coat of arms. So who knows; perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets. Fishing updates Along with salmon, lots of other fishing activity is ongoing or gearing up across Alaska. Southeast’s Dungeness fishery opens June 15 and crabbers are hoping for another good season. Combined catches for last year’s summer and fall fisheries totaled nearly 6.7 million pounds, more than double the 10-year average, and just shy of the record 7.3 million pounds taken in 2002. Kodiak crabbers also are dropping pots for Dungeness crab in a fishery that last year neared 3 million pounds. A red king crab fishery opens at Norton Sound on June 15 with a 290,000-pound catch quota. Southeast Alaska’s summer pot fishery for spot shrimp is pulling up the last of its 546,000-pound catch. Beam trawlers also are on the grounds targeting a 1.8 million-pound harvest of pink and sidestripe shrimp. Southeast divers are still going down in some areas for the remainder of a half-million pounds of Geoduck clams. Prince William Sound extended its spot shrimp season to September with up to 60 boats vying for a 70,000-pound pot catch. Alaska’s scallop fishery opens in regions from Southeast to the Bering Sea on July 1. The total catch has not been announced yet but last year the small fleet of 3 to 4 boats dredged up a reduced quota of 277,500 pounds of shucked meats, nearly half from the Yakutat region. Alaska’s halibut catch has topped 5 million pounds with Homer, Seward, and Juneau the leading ports for landings. Prices are still running more than $2/pound higher than last year, ranging from $5.50 to $6.75 or more in most major ports, and reaching $7 per pound at Homer. Alaska halibut fishermen have a nearly 20 million-pound catch limit this year. Black cod (sablefish) catches have topped 13 million pounds with most deliveries going to Sitka, Seward and Kodiak. Those prices also are up considerably, ranging from $1 per pound for two pounders to $5.80 per pound for 7-ups. That fishing quota this year is 40.5 million pounds. And as always, fishing continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for a huge mix of Alaska pollock, cod, flounders, rockfish and more. Mask reminder The federal mask mandate remains in effect for fishing crews on all U.S. vessels. And while the Center for Disease Control has relaxed the rules for fully vaccinated people, fishermen are not included. Many have pointed out that it’s critical on noisy boats to be able to read lips or facial expressions and Sen. Lisa Murkowski pressed that point at a May Senate hearing. “This is more a safety hazard than anything else — you’re out on a boat, the winds are howling, your mask is soggy wet. Tell me how anyone thinks this is a sane and sound policy,” she said. Murkowski recently co-wrote a letter to the CDC and Coast Guard asking them to exempt fishermen from the mask requirement, and the pushback has been joined by lawmakers from other coastal states. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has stated it will be checking for compliance and not wearing masks could mean restricted access to ports and operations, along with civil or criminal penalties. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Kelp farm permits still more popular than shellfish

Alaskan interest in growing kelp continues to outpace that of shellfish, based on applications filed during the annual window that runs from January through April. The number of 2021 applicants dropped to just seven, reversing a steady upward trend that reached 16 last year, likely due to a “wait and see” approach stemming from the pandemic. “We had people whose personal situations changed because of COVID. They became homeschooling parents, things like that, where they can no longer dedicate the time they thought they were going to have out on a farm site,” said Michell Morris, permit coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The agency partners with the Department of Natural Resources, which leases the lands where aquatic farming takes place. Of the new applicants, six plan to grow kelp in waters of Kodiak, Yakutat and Cordova and one intends to farm oysters at Sitka. So far 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska comprise nearly 900 acres and 35 pending new applications total 1631.32 acres, Morris said. Most of the active farms (42) are located throughout Southeast, with 26 in the Southcentral regions of Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, and eight at Kodiak. The number of operations reporting sales through 2020 stayed steady at 28, said Flip Pryor, ADFG statewide aquaculture section chief. Overall, sales last year dropped to approximately $1.08 million, down from $1.5 million, with Pacific oysters making up about 80 percent of the value. “Production in 2020 dropped below 1 million oysters for the first time since 2016,” Pryor said. At the same time, sales of primarily ribbon and sugar kelp doubled, topping 230,000 pounds. “The statewide value of aquatic plants was just under $200,000, which is a nice jump from $60,000 in 2019,” Pryor added. Nearly all of the kelp sales came from three Kodiak growers who expect to produce up to 300,000 pounds this year, according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror. All sell their harvests to Blue Evolution, a California-based buyer that produces kelp popcorn, pastas and powders. Alaska kelp pioneer, Nick Mangini of Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed, also is working with the Department of Energy on a biofuel project that would eventually need hundreds of millions of pounds of product. Small growers fill a niche, Pryor said, but it will take bigger operators to scale up the industry’s economic potential. “Small growers can do things like supply local restaurants because of very low transport costs compared to shipping stuff down to the Lower 48. But it’s going to take those big farms and the big processors that have money to invest to bring that volume up and make those economies of scale happen and provide a constant product,” he said. “People who are buying kelp for biofuels, for example, don’t want a boom and bust sort of thing. They want to know they can count on X number of pounds every single year. And that’s definitely going to take some big operations in the water.” Shellfish safety zone Kachemak Bay appears to be a refuge from ocean acidity levels that prevent shellfish and marine creatures from growing skeletons and shells. That’s based on first results of a study begun in 2017 that placed an array of sensors near shore to test for carbon dioxide levels that indicate ocean acidity. The tested regions never indicated long term periods of corrosivity, and that’s good news for aqua-farmers doing business in the Bay. Researchers found that Kachemak Bay also is one of the most variable places on earth in terms of hourly acidic changes, likely due to its vast tidal range. “I think it’s the second largest in the world being about eight meters or 24 feet in total, in June and December,” said Cale Miller, at the University of California who led the study for his doctoral thesis at the University of California. “The other thing that’s important is the oceanography of the Bay itself. You get a lot of influx from the Gulf of Alaska and Cook Inlet, and the Homer Spit bisects the Bay into two distinct regions that have different oceanographic patterns. “There’s evidence that organisms, especially the photosynthesizing organisms, are different between the inner and outer portions of the Bay. And those are what you would call the lower trophic level or food chain items for a lot of other organisms that they live on.” Miller worked under the guidance of Amanda Kelly, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who said the multi-year study will give a better gauge of corrosive water conditions, and when they are occurring. “One of the benefits of studies like these is that we’re able to identify areas that are potentially good for shellfish or maybe not so good, or maybe better for seaweed aquaculture,” she said. “It allows for mitigation planning and community adaptation planning. Let’s say you shift focus from one species to another as an example of mitigation, or maybe a change in the time of year that fisheries are open to better fit with these changing conditions. They need to be able to better strategize for their long term future.” Research shows that Southwest and Southeast Alaska are at higher risk for ocean acidity and Juneau is already identified as a hot spot. Kelly said that area is on their research radar, as are other Alaska regions. “I got an Alaska Sea Grant Award to do a comparison of Kachemak Bay versus Juneau. I have pH sensors down in Juneau and that’s part of our next step in terms of looking at other areas regionally. So that’s exciting,” she said. (The term “pH” stands for “potential of hydrogen,” a measure of how acidic water is. The range goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Levels of less than 7 indicate acidity.) In other good news: This fall the state ferry Columbia will resume testing a stretch of nearly 1,000 water miles for acidity, a project that began in 2017 but was derailed last year due to the pandemic. The ferry runs from Southeast Alaska across British Columbia to Bellingham, Washington. It is part of an Alaska/Canada project to understand how ocean acidity levels change seasonally. The Columbia data will be uploaded daily to the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network website. ‘Frankenfish’ for sale The first sales of more than five tons of genetically engineered Atlantic salmon are on their way to U.S. restaurants and food service outlets where customers will not be told what they’re eating. Federal labeling law “directs” companies to disclose genetically modified ingredients through use of a QR code, on-package wording or a symbol. Mandatory compliance takes effect in January 2022, but the rules don’t apply to restaurants or providers of meals away from home. The Associated Press reports thus far, the only customer to announce it is selling the salmon is Samuels and Son Seafood, a Philadelphia-based distributor. Bio-tech producer AquaBounty raises the manmade fish that are genetically tweaked to grow twice as fast as wild salmon, reaching an 8- to 12-pound market size in 18 months rather than the normal three years. The fish are reared at an indoor growing facility in Indiana with other locations planned. “Most of the salmon in this country is imported so having a domestic source of supply that isn’t seasonal like wild salmon and that is produced in a highly-controlled, bio-secure environment is increasingly important to consumers,” CEO Sylvia Wulf told the AP. AquaBounty markets the salmon as disease- and antibiotic-free, saying it comes with a reduced carbon footprint and none of the risk of polluting marine ecosystems as in traditional sea-cage farming. The FDA approved the AquAdvantage Salmon as “safe and effective” in 2015. It was the only genetically modified animal approved for human consumption until they OK’d a pig for food and medical products last December. Water watch Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune has rejected a state judge’s recommendation that it was wrong for DEC to issue a Clean Water Act certificate to Donlin Gold, the world’s largest gold mine planned upstream from villages along the Kuskokwim River. The state issued a “certificate of reasonable assurance” to Donlin in August 2018 saying it believed its operations would comply with state water standards. But state judge Kent Sullivan last month ruled in favor of Orutsararmiut Native Council, finding the certificate was improperly issued because the mine would not meet Alaska water quality standards, especially regarding high levels of mercury. Brune, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, worked for several years as the U.S. public affairs manager for London-based Anglo American, a 50 percent partner in the Pebble Mine until it walked away from the project in 2013. Resolutions opposing the Donlin project have been adopted by the Association of Village Council Presidents which represents 56 tribes, 13 Tribal Governments, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, and the National Congress of American Indians. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Grundens launches outerwear collection made from old gear

Grundens is using recycled plastics from old fishing gear for a new line of rugged casual wear, and the first batch contains contributions from Cordova. Grundens, whose motto is “We are fishing,” is the go-to brand for outerwear and foul-weather gear for mariners around the world. The company, which originated in Sweden in 1911, debuted its NetSource Collection this spring. The men’s shorts and women’s leggings use ECONYL, a regenerated nylon fabric that uses recycled fishing nets as the raw material. The company connected with the Copper River Watershed Project which collects the fishing nets and gets prepares them for shipping to Europe, where they are recycled into plastic pellets or, in this case, fibers. “We believe it’s really important to use our brand voice to help protect and maintain healthy marine environments and to lend a hand where we can,” said Mat Jackson, Grundens chief marketing officer. “At some point, you’ve got to just start doing it. And Cordova seemed like a tangible opportunity.” “Cordova is moving full steam ahead,” said Nicole Baker of Net Your Problem who helped make the Grundens connection. Baker, a former Bering Sea fisheries observer, has helped jumpstart fishing gear recycling programs in Alaska since 2017. “The gill net fleet is pretty dialed in and seines are made out of the same type of plastic, so those two gear types can be recycled together,” she added. “Right now, it’s just a small part of our overall collection, but we seek to expand it to other items, including foul-weather gear. It’s something we really believe in,” said Grundens spokesman Corey Lowe. “We’re aware of the amount of ghost nets and plastics in the ocean so whether we’re doing it or our competitors, we want more of it to end up in the recycling supply chain. We see it as a rising tide lifts all boats kind of thing and positive for the industry overall.” He added, “Hopefully, when fishermen buy something from us later on, it’s kind of cool to think ‘hey, my net is now hanging off my shoulders as a jacket or something.’” Grundens also is now using 100 percent biodegradable packaging called PLA whose raw material is glucose from corn starch. It fully decomposes in under one year. By June 2021 all products will be shipped in compostable Eco-packaging. “Grundens encourages other brands to follow suit and increase the rate at which plastic poly bags are eliminated from the apparel supply chain,” a press report said. Recycling road trip Grundens also has its eye on old fishing gear from Bristol Bay, where the borough will discuss a funding request from Net Your Problem at its June 7 meeting. Founder Nicole Baker said she had “tentative commitments” from the Regional Seafood Development Association, the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. and Grundens to help pay for the first year of recycling there. “If that gets approved, cross our fingers, we will be able to start in 2022,” Baker said. She and team members also will be in Cordova on June 8 to and in Homer in mid-June to talk with people about getting a program going there. They will head to Dutch Harbor on June 18. “We’re going to be working with the City to sort through the landfill and recycle what we can, and also to push for the boats to do recycling,” Baker said. In Southeast Alaska, Friends of Recycling in Haines is collecting fishing nets and RecycleWorks in Juneau is doing the same at Aurora Harbor. Kodiak is still accepting trawl nets and “things are in the works” for other gears, Baker said. The Dillingham program is defunct, Baker said, and the landfill there doesn’t accept fishing nets. “I’m hoping that those two forces will encourage fishermen and other businesses to work with us to get something going again,” she said. Baker is doing a survey to estimate the amount of fishing gear available for recycling in Alaska and said “every single fisherman with the exception of one has said they think recycling is a better option for their gear than the landfill.” The problem, she added, is “how do we pay for it? Do our values and morals align with what budgets we have and other alternatives costs?” Much of it falls to human behavior. Net Your Problem is one of 10 finalists in a global “Solution Search” competition for solutions related to plastic pollution that rely on behavior changes. It is sponsored by the Center for Behaviour and the Environment and the winning entrant receives a $25,000 grant. Project supporters can vote once per day through June 11. Dutch does it again Dutch Harbor easily held on to the title of the nation’s top fishing port, Naknek laid claim to No. 2 in terms of dollars crossing the docks and salmon toppled lobster as America’s most valuable fish. Those are a few takeaways from the Fisheries of the U.S. report by NOAA Fisheries for 2019. It also covers trade, mariculture and more for nearly every fish in the sea and is loaded with colorful graphics. A snapshot: Dutch Harbor was the leading port for fish landings for the 23rd year running with 763 million pounds worth $190 million. The Aleutian Islands, home to North America’s largest processing plant at Akutan, ranked second (589 million pounds/$142 million) and Kodiak placed third for landings (397 million pounds/$120 million). For value, New Bedford, Mass., held on to the top spot for 20 years at $451 million, due to landings of pricey scallops. Naknek ranked second for catch value at $289 million for 206 million pounds, followed by the Aleutians ($149 million), Bristol Bay ($129 million) and Kodiak ($120 million). Eight Alaska ports (40 percent) were in the top 20 for both seafood landings and values and accounted for 24 percent of the top 50. Of all the seafood species caught by U.S. fishermen, Pacific salmon had the highest value at $707 million for 840 million pounds. Alaska accounted for 99 percent of the total U.S. salmon catch. The average salmon price to Alaska fishermen was 81-cents a pound, down from 99-cents in 2018. Alaska pollock was tops for fish that is processed into fillets and other forms (1.6 billion pounds/$2.2 billion). Second was sockeye salmon (211 million pounds/$1 billion). In all, U.S. fisheries produced 9.3 billion pounds in 2019 worth $5.5 billion, on par with the previous year. Sixty percent of the U.S. catch and 33 percent of the value were generated by Alaska fisheries. The U.S. imported 6 billion pounds of seafood ($22.2 billion) and exported 2.8 billion pounds ($5.2 billion) for a trade deficit of $17 billion. For recreational fisheries, spotted trout was the #1 catch by U.S. anglers, followed by black sea bass and bluefish. And Americans ate a bit more seafood - 19.2 pounds per person, up two-tenths from 2018. Salmon watch At Copper River’s second opener on May 20, New Peter Pan Seafood paid $12.60 per pound for sockeyes and $19.60 for kings, an all-time high. Peter Pan Vice President of Operations Jon Hickman said, “leaders at Peter Pan are looking forward to being a foundation for all fishermen, communities and the market.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: State seafood marketers hoping for pandemic relief

Alaska’s lone seafood marketing arm gets zero budget from the state and to date, has received no pandemic funds. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is hoping to get a breather from the more than $1 billion coming to Alaska in the latest round of federal relief dollars under the American Rescue Plan, or ARP. The influx also provides $518 million of non-discretionary funds to Alaska and $220 million for public health and safety, workforce development, education, transportation, and emergency management. ASMI put in a $20 million request two months ago, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy made no mention of it in mid-April when he released his proposals for the ARP money nor anything since. Dunleavy did include $150 million for Alaska Tourism Revitalization citing the need for “industry relief to promote tourism and adapt services for potential loss of cruise ship season.” “Recovering market losses from the pandemic will require additional investment,” said Jack Schultheis, ASMI board chair and manager of Kwik’Pac Fisheries in Emmonak. He cited widespread closures, shipping disruptions to markets and added costs for harvesters and processors in the communities where they operate. ASMI revenues dropped 25 percent in the last year, due to an estimated $500 million in lost income to the statewide fleet. The group is solely funded by a 0.5 percent voluntary industry tax based on dock prices and competitive grant funding. “ASMI’s revenue is expected to decline by $5 million over two years,” said executive director Jeremy Woodrow at a House Fisheries Committee presentation last week. Along with COVID-19 impacts, Alaska’s seafood industry faces a double-whammy from hurtful trade barriers. Seafood is Alaska’s largest export by far with nearly 75 percent exported each year to nearly 100 countries. The newest trade snafu is a 25 percent to 35 percent tariff imposed last November on U.S. salmon going to the 27 countries that comprise the European Union. The dispute stems from U.S. subsidies being paid to Boeing and competing European aircraft. China, Alaska’s largest trading partner, has levied 37 percent to 42 percent tariffs on Alaska seafood since 2018. Russia, Alaska’s largest competitor, slammed its doors on U.S. seafood purchases in 2014, but Russian exports to the U.S. are up 173 percent. ASMI’s profile and the off-kilter seafood trade deals could get a nudge from two resolutions filed last week by Alaska senators. Senate Joint Resolution 16 calls on President Biden to immediately seek and secure an end to the Russian embargo on U.S. seafood imports. Senate Joint Resolution 17 asks the U.S. Trade Representative to bring a renewed focus on the plight of producers of seafood in Alaska and the U.S., and to compel China to comply with its commitment to increase its imports of U.S. seafood products. Dollars for direct sellers The Local Catch Network, a nationwide group of small-scale harvesters, will act as guides through another round of relief funds. The Farmers Market Promotion and Local Food Promotion programs include $77 million in competitive grants for seafood businesses, Tribes and groups involved in local, regional and direct seafood marketing. National Fisherman reports it stems from $92.2 million in funding through the 2018 Farm Bill Local Agriculture Market Program as part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative. Local and direct seafood sales have been a bright spot during the pandemic and direct to consumer, e-commerce sales increased by 122 percent over the past year, according to ASMI data. For the next six weeks, the Local Catch Network will host outreach events and provide technical help to fishermen and community organizations interested in applying for funding. Copper River fish frenzy Phones were “ringing off the hook” at Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle where pre-orders of fresh sockeye salmon fillets were retailing at $49.99 per pound, and $79.99 per pound for Copper River kings. The fish was expected on May 18, one day after the salmon season’s first opener. The Cordova Times reported that Sena Sea Seafoods in Washington, the sales arm of Cordova-based 60º North Seafoods, had pre-orders for fresh king fillets at $139 per pound and $122 for sockeyes. Four eight-ounce portions of frozen kings were going for $189 and frozen sockeye pre-orders were $95 for four, six-ounce portions. Copper Rivers Seafoods was taking orders for sockeye fillets at $49.95 per pound and king salmon at $69.95. Anchorage-based seafood marketer FishEx was promoting sockeye orders at $44.95 per pound and $78.95 for kings. State managers forecast low total Copper River catches this year at 652,000 sockeyes, 13,000 king salmon and 218,000 coho. Overall, Alaska’s 2021 statewide salmon harvest is projected to top 190 million fish, a 61 percent increase over the 2020 catch. Fish builders Turning plastics from old fishing gear and marine debris into durable lumber is building momentum from coast to coast and one Alaska entrepreneur plans to take it on the road. Patrick Simpson of Cordova received a $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a mobile plastic waste recycler. He told Alaska Public Media that the recycler would fit into one or two 40-foot container vans for easy transport to local communities. “The technology is not terribly difficult,” he said. “The innovation is in the use of the net combined with the melted plastic to create an extruded recycled plastic lumber, and the packaging into this mobile platform.” Along with old fishing gear, Simpson plans to pick up plastic materials that wash up on local coastlines. He hopes to gather the goods collected in community beach cleanups before it goes to landfills. Plastics come in many forms, he said, and the kinds used in milk jugs or bottles are different from those used in nets or ropes. “I’m able to take the polyethylene and polypropylene and I’m melting those, and then I’m shredding net nylon and using it as a reinforcement, the fibers, to create a recycled plastic lumber. Then I’m going to sell that locally,” he said. Simpson said the lumber could be best used for decks, fences or roofing tiles. He is hoping to get a more sizeable grant that would enable him to use drones to locate plastic debris on coastlines. Elsewhere, Radio Canada reports that Goodwood Plastic Products in Nova Scotia has commercialized synthetic lumber made out of derelict fishing gear and other plastics, using a nearly half-million dollar grant from the government. It’s part of a more than $8 million Innovative Solutions fund that includes fishermen and divers eager to help. The recyclables are shredded, melted, and pushed through molds to create planks and posts for decks, park benches and picnic tables. Goodwood now employs 10 people and hopes to recycle more than 22 million pounds of plastics annually. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Copper River season set as restaurant demand returns

Alaska’s 2021 salmon officially starts on May 17 with a 12-hour opener for reds and kings at the Copper River. All eyes will be on early Cordova dock prices for Alaska’s famous “first fresh salmon of the season” as an indicator of wild salmon markets. COVID-19 closures of high end restaurants and seafood outlets in 2020 tanked starting prices to $3 per pound for sockeyes and $6.50 for king salmon, down from $10 and $14, respectively the previous year. But early signs are looking good. Heading into Mother’s Day on May 9, demand for seafood was “fanatic” said Mitch Miller, Vice President of national upscale seafood restaurants Ocean Prime in Nation’s Restaurant News. National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said there is a lot more consumer optimism this year as more people are getting vaccinated and stimulus checks are being distributed, and friends and family are moving about more freely. Alaska’s 2021 salmon harvest is projected to top 190 million fish, a 61 percent increase versus 2020. The breakdown includes 46.6 million sockeye salmon, 3.8 million cohos, 15.3 million chum salmon, 296,000 chinook and 124.2 million pinks. Elsewhere on the fishing grounds, Alaska’s biggest herring fishery at Togiak kicked off on May 3 with two buyers and about a dozen boats on the grounds. They have a roughly 85 million-pound quota, the largest since 1993. Herring fishing continued around Kodiak for a nearly 16 million pound catch, the largest ever. Sitka’s roe herring fishery this spring produced less than half of its 67 million pound quota, taken by 18 of 47 permit holders. Southeast Alaska’s summer pot shrimp fishery opens on May 15 with a 40,000-pound catch limit. Southeast divers are still going down for a half-million pound Geoduck clam quota. A lingcod fishery opens on May 16. A 10-day pot shrimp reopens at Prince William Sound on May 10 with nearly 60 boats vying for a 70,000-pound catch. Kodiak’s Dungeness fishery opened on May 1 and so far, a fleet of about 15 boats is dropping pots around Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. Last year’s Dungie catch of nearly 3 million pounds was the region’s best in three decades. Bering Sea crabbers are pulling up the last of their 40.5 million-pound snow crab quota. Crabbers also are wrapping up the season’s Tanner crab and golden king crab fisheries. Alaska’s halibut catch is nearing 3 million pounds with Seward, Juneau and Homer the leading ports for landings. Alaska halibut fishermen have a nearly 20 million-pound catch limit this year. Black cod (sablefish) catches have topped 7 million pounds with most going to Sitka, Seward and Kodiak. That fishing limit this year is 40.5 million pounds. And as always, fishing continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for a huge mix of Alaska pollock, cod, flounders and more. COVID-19 comfish impacts A drop in dock prices stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest hit to Alaska fishermen over the past year, followed by planning and logistics disruptions. Those are just a few takeaways from a presentation compiled by McKinley Research Group economist Dan Lesh for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute at its May Board of Directors meeting. Other lowlights: Dockside values were down across the board due to a mix of biological factors and COVID-19 disruptions. That decreased the value of Alaska’s 2020 seafood catch by roughly 20 percent to 25 percent to an estimated $1.5 billion, and down 16 percent in export value and volume from 2019. Disaster declarations were posted for eight Alaska salmon fisheries in 2020, one of the worst years since 1970s. Alaska’s seafood industry reflected a 21 percent decline for crew licenses from 2019, and a 31 percent decline in peak employment for processing workers. For Alaska processors, costs above and beyond those normally incurred added up to $70 million, and they expect to pay more than $100 million this year due mostly to travel and quarantine expenses. Processors also saw a 50 percent decrease in workforce changes along with “reduced employee morale.” Of roughly 100 fishermen surveyed, nearly half said they received COVID-19 relief payments, not including the Paycheck Protection Program; half said they did not. Of those, 21 percent said it was due to a lack of awareness about relief payments. COVID-19 impacts are expected to be even more challenging this year, due to trade disputes, climate change impacts and increased competition, including from plant-based foods. The Alaska Department of Revenue spring forecast estimates that fisheries business and landing taxes for fiscal year 2021 will total $47.8 million, a 19 percent decrease from last year’s $58.8 million. Meanwhile, increased seafood demand and a 36 percent growth in direct-to-consumer sales to $90 billion is called “exciting” and the Alaska brand remains strong and “increasingly relevant.” Seafood surge A who’s-who of over 60 U.S. fishing companies, organizations, medical professionals and more sent a letter to Congress last week asking for support for a country-wide seafood marketing and public education campaign. The goal is to highlight the immense health benefits of eating fish and shellfish, a message backed by Americans who have sent seafood sales soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group plans to resurrect a National Seafood Council, a move recommended by NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Council last July. A Seafood Council was created in 1987 as part of a Fish and Seafood Promotion Act but fizzled after five years. The mission is simple: get Americans to eat more seafood. The push gets some extra clout from new U.S. dietary guidelines that advise Americans to eat two seafood servings per week, starting with kids at six months. “Maybe we should have a contest to find a nice tag line that would identify seafood in the same way as ‘Got Milk?’ or ‘Beef, It’s what for dinner’, or the ‘Incredible Edible egg,’” said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, pointing to other major U.S. food producers who back their industries to promote their products. This week’s industry letter to Congress requests $25 million in seed money to revive a more modernized Council that would eventually become industry funded. A task force led by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership has formed to lay a foundation for the Council. It will be “the most all-encompassing, consumer-facing seafood marketing campaign in our nation’s history,” SNP said in a press release. Brenna is encouraged by the seafood push. “Apparently, we have not done the kind of job that we should have in educating consumers in what they ought to be demanding for themselves and their kids,” he said in a phone interview. “We have a major effect here with seafood that we should be heralding from the rooftops.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Director ‘encouraged’ by proposed ComFish division budget

The budget for Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Division is facing no cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, assuming the current numbers make it through the Legislature. “The governor’s proposed budget is at about $72.8 million, which is a slight increase from the FY21 approved budget. And most of that increase is due to our personnel services, cost of living increases and things like that that are funded by the administration generally. And also from some additional federal funds for training and things like that. So we’re looking pretty good compared to past years,” said Sam Rabung, director of the Commercial Fisheries Division, the largest within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which employs just more than 640 full, part-time and seasonal workers. “We’re really relieved because we’ve been cut pretty close to the bone and any additional significant cuts would impact fisheries directly. We wouldn’t be able to do some of the assessment projects required for management and we would have to either close or severely restrict fisheries. And I think everybody understands that,” he said, adding that another bonus will be the reopening of the ADFG office at Wrangell. Rabung credited the Dunleavy Administration for taking the time to dig into the details that clearly show Alaska’s fisheries “pay their own way.” “We’re absolutely encouraged by that,” he said. “There’s been a lot of administrations that come in without knowing that the commercial fishing industry pays more into the general fund than we get out as a division to manage it. And because we don’t advertise that, it doesn’t get talked about much. “But commercial fisheries as an industry pays more into the general fund and includes other things like licenses, fees, taxes, assessments, all those things add up to significantly more than we are allocated out of the general fund.” Rabung added that most Alaskans don’t know that the Commercial Fisheries Division also manages subsistence and personal use fisheries, along with several fisheries in federal waters, such as crab. And because fish are migratory and cross jurisdictional boundaries, staff also are involved in research and policy making activities of the Pacific Salmon Commission, the Joint Canadian-U.S. Yukon River Panel and several other interstate and international fisheries bodies. Southwest AK COVID-19 survey How helpful have COVID-19 relief programs been so far to people in Alaska’s vast Southwest region? A short survey aims to find out. “We really wanted to focus on individual’s experiences, we’re not sending out to local governments, tribal governments, large organizations, things like that. We want to hear what the impacts or results of the Coronavirus was to you personally and to your family,” said Shirley Marquardt, executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference that since 1988 has represented more than 45 communities from Kodiak to the Bristol Bay region, the Alaska Peninsula out to Adak, the Pribilof Islands and everywhere in between. “We want to learn how helpful or accessible were federal, state, local, Tribal grants or loan programs, because each community in our region has a different experience, and it’s really vitally important that we get a handle on what those were,” she said. One goal is to create a sort of roadmap to better understand the unique characteristics of an economic disaster in each community and region. “The second would be how SWAMC can better understand the grants or loan programs, or utility payments for municipalities that were most helpful,” Marquardt explained. “A lot of money went out that wasn’t accessible to a lot of folks in our region because we have such limited broadband. And you could only apply online. We want to get a better handle and understanding of how that impacted folks and how to better understand the eligibility requirements and the application process.” Marquardt said spotty or no broadband service throughout the region kept many people from accessing any benefits. “We had people who were out fishing and they couldn’t apply and they were clearly eligible and truly needed the money. And they were so frustrated because they had to wait. And some of the folks waited and then they were told it was too late,” she said. The survey, done in partnership with McKinley Research Group, will examine lessons learned and identify strategies to help Southwest communities better withstand and recover from future economic shocks. “Anyone who lives and works in those communities, has kids in school, has health care concerns, etc., we need to hear from you,” Marquardt said. Find the survey at www.swamc.org. Respondents can enter to win a $50 Visa gift card. Alaska pollock push Got an idea for making or marketing new pollock products? The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers aims to create more awareness and demand among consumers in North America and Europe through its Partnership Program by funding new items or helping to get the fish introduced to food influencers and decision-makers at places where it hasn’t previously had visibility. “It’s our fifth round in North America and our second round in Europe,” said CEO Craig Morris. The group has so far obligated more than $5 million to “brand partners” who have created three dozen new pollock products, with $1.5 million available in the current round. “This year we want to think even bigger, bringing new partners into the program and working to identify new opportunities for more unique products, including those made with surimi and roe,” he said, adding that pollock oil and fishmeal also are in the mix. “Pollock oils for health supplements or pet food items, we want to hear all the good ideas,” he added. Morris said that “snacks” best defines the success of the new pollock products that have been funded so far, including such items as Highliner Alaska Wild Wings (a takeoff on Buffalo wings), surimi pastas and Neptune jerky (available at Amazon). And last year, 7-Eleven worked with GAPP to introduce a crispy fish sandwich during Lent in its 8,000 U.S. outlets that proved to be one of its most popular hot foods. Building on that success, 7-Eleven followed this year with grab and go fish bites: five bite-sized pieces that are panko-crusted and served on a skewer with a side of tartar sauce. GAPP is featuring a webinar on May 25 for any prospective applicants to help them through the process. Proposals are due by July 20; funding announcements will be made in early September. Find more information and application forms for its Partnership Program at www.alaskapollock.org. Price watch Contrary to usual trends, halibut and sablefish (black cod) prices have increased since the March 6 start of the fisheries. Industry watchers will be interested in knowing that dock prices are regularly posted by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Halibut prices often are broken out according to weights of 10 to 20 pounds, 20 to 40 pounds and 40-up. Here’s a sampler: March 10 at Whittier, $5.50 to $5.75; March 16 at Petersburg, $5.75 straight; April 6 at Yakutat, $5.75 to $6; Seward, $5.75 to $6.15; April 17 at Homer, $6.30/$6.55/$6.85; April 22 at Sitka, $5.65 to $5.85. Black cod prices are broken into five weight categories by poundage. Prices on April 17 at Kodiak were less than 2 pounds, $1.05; 2 to 3, $2.15; 3 to 4, $2.60; 4 to 5, $3; 5 to 6, $3.65; 7-ups. $5.50. By April 19 at Homer they were less than 2 pounds, 40 cents; 2 to 3, $1.50; 3 to 4, $2; 4 to 5, $2.50; 5 to 6, $4; 7-ups, $5. On April 22 at Sitka: less than 2 pounds, $1; 2 to 3, $2.10; 3 to 4, $2.40; 4 to 5, $2.85; 5 to 7, $3.65; 7-ups, $5.50. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Effort launched to study stormwater runoff

Are toxins from road runoff a threat to salmon in Anchorage’s most popular fishing streams? A Go Fund Me campaign has been launched so Alaskans can chip in to find out. The push stems from an organic compound in tires called quinone that was newly identified by researchers at the University of Washington, said Birgit Hagedorn, a geochemist and longtime board member of the Anchorage Waterways Council. “The little flakes that rub off of tires, especially larger truck tires, can be transported into the streams via stormwater. And they leach out the compound that they discovered was highly toxic to salmon. They were specifically looking at coho salmon,” she explained. Hagedorn hopes to raise $5,500 to test the urban waters that run off the Seward and Glenn highways into Ship Creek and Campbell Creek. The Ship Creek salmon sport fishery is the region’s most popular and successful where anglers target stocked chinook and coho salmon. Other stocked coho salmon fisheries have been established in Campbell and Bird creeks, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Hagedorn already has samples of snow melt in her freezer to send to testing labs and more will be taken this summer. “During the first really big rain event, we want to go out and sample again. We provide the sampling and the labor and we don’t take some money for that,” she said. “The fundraiser is to pay for the analysis, because it’s relatively complicated. It takes up to $500 for just one sample.” Little is known about the compound that is used by tire manufacturers to make the rubber more durable. “How long does it actually last in water? What is the degradation rate? Can it be absorbed? Those are really variable research studies that could be put in place to understand this compound better,” she said. The hope is to eventually partner with the Anchorage municipality and the state university to advance further studies and encourage tire makers to stop using the toxic compound. That’s been the case in Washington state where a Better Brakes law passed in 2010 phases out copper from brakes completely by 2025 to protect salmon. California has followed suit and the program is advancing nationwide. Studies have shown that copper levels as low as two parts per billion from vehicle brake pads and exhaust impair the sense of smell in juvenile salmon, which helps them avoid predators. “If there are larger predators around and the fish are not able to respond to these danger signals in the water, they would be the next snack,” said Jason Sandahl at Oregon State University, who is one of the first to show how contaminants can disrupt the chemical balance of sea creatures. Meanwhile, studies like Hagedorn’s highlight just how little is known about impacts of compounds in a watery mix of automotive byproducts that runoff from roads into adjacent waters. “Urban runoff mortality syndrome occurs annually among adult coho salmon returning to spawn in freshwaters where concurrent stormwater exposure causes rapid mortality. It is unlikely that coho salmon are uniquely sensitive, and the toxicology of 6PPD quinone transformation products in other aquatic species should be assessed,” wrote the UW scientists in the January 2021 abstract in Science Magazine. “To know what’s out there, I think that’s an important first step.” Hagedorn said. Gulf crabbers go big Crabbers throughout the Gulf of Alaska are enjoying some great hauls, especially for Tanners and Dungeness. An 11-day winter fishery throughout Southeast Alaska produced 1.26 million pounds of Tanner crab, the fourth-largest catch in the past 15 seasons for nearly 70 permit holders. At an average price of $3.72 per pound, the fishery was valued at $4.2 million at the docks, the best since 1999. For golden king crab, four out of seven Southeast fishing districts remain open with a combined harvest limit of 76,500 pounds. Crabbers were fetching $11.33 per pound and many were selling the crab off the docks. Southeast crabbers also had their second best fishery for Dungeness. Catches for the combined 2020 summer and fall crab fisheries totaled nearly 6.7 million pounds, more than double the 10 year average, and just shy of the record 7.3 million pounds taken in 2002. The price to fishermen was disappointing, averaging $1.72 per pound, down by more than a dollar making the dockside value more than $11.5 million. Kodiak is gearing up for a Dungeness crab fishery that begins on May 1 and will last into the fall. Last season produced the biggest catch in 30 years at just less than 3 million pounds for a fleet of 29 boats. Prices for the two-pounders dropped to $1.85, down from more than $3 in previous seasons. The higher catches were due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, said Nat Nichols, area manager for the ADFG at Kodiak. The stocks are very cyclical and could be the tail end of a peak. “We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and in the past these peaks have lasted three years of so and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through. So this could be that we’re coming to the end of this peak. This summer will tell the tale,” he said. After sitting out a Tanner fishery this year, crabbers at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula have fingers crossed for an opener in 2022. Surveys over several years showed the largest cohort of Tanner crabs ever seen is poised to grow into the fishery throughout the westward region. “There’s been a good recruitment signal all the way out. And they seem to be growing well,” Nichols said, adding that Tanners at the South Peninsula near Sand Point and King Cove usually lag about one year behind. He agreed that fewer cod fish throughout the Gulf could account for the steady uptick in Tanners. “There’s just a lot fewer mouths out there trying to eat Tanner crab right now,” he said. Seaweed stops gas For several years, studies in Australia and Canada have proven that small amounts of red seaweed added to livestock feed greatly reduces methane from the gas they pass in burps and farts. Cow burps alone account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA, and the U.S. is only the world’s fourth-largest producer of cattle, behind China, Brazil, and India. Now researchers at University of California Davis have revealed that cattle eating just three ounces of red seaweed daily over five months gained as much weight as their herd mates while burping out 82 percent less methane into the atmosphere. The seaweed additive also did not hurt the cattle’s growth or change the taste of beef. The UC Davis studies followed earlier research on dairy cows where daily seaweed dosages were used from the time they were calves until full grown. Methane emissions dropped by 50 percent and the longer term use did not change the taste of the cows’ milk. All researchers used a red seaweed found in warmer waters throughout the Pacific called Asparagopsis toxiformis. It’s one of the most popular seaweed ingredients in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke. But the supply from wild harvests is not enough to go around. To the rescue: startups already are underway to produce it. SeafoodSource reports that Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology has partnered with Yale University to cultivate the seaweed in land-based tanks with intentions of providing it to livestock farmers around the world. An Australian project called Greener Grazing is the first to develop methods to produce Asparagosis spores for ocean cultivation. And last year a dried product called FutureFeed created at James Cook University in partnership with Meat and Livestock Australia won a Food Planet Prize of $1 million. Doses of just 1 to 2 percent of their dried seaweed reduced methane emissions in cud-chewing livestock by 99 percent. The makers claim that if just 10 percent of global livestock producers added 1 percent of Asparagopsis seaweed meal to the daily feeds of cud-chewing livestock, it would be similar to taking 100 million cars off the road. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Demand jump, tight supply leading to record crab prices

“Insatiable” is the word being used to describe the demand for snow crab as the world’s largest fishery got underway on April 5 in Eastern Canada. And while more snow crab will be available this year, buyers expect a tight supply. Global seafood supplier Tradex said snow crab and other “premium crab” saw huge growth at retail in 2020 and demand is even greater this year. Seafood like crab and lobster are now perceived as being affordable to buy and cook at home compared to the cost in restaurants. Tradex spokesperson Tasha Cadence said that shift has spawned a new pandemic-inspired word by market experts. “It’s ‘premium-ization,’ or customers recognizing a higher value for a product and paying a higher price,” she said, referring to comments by industry veteran Les Hodges in his April Crab Update. The combined Canadian catch for snow crab through September, most of which is sold to the U.S., tops 157 million pounds, 11 million pounds higher than 2020. The Canadian crab comprises 62 percent of the U.S. market share, according to Urner-Barry, which has provided information for the food industry since 1858. Prices for snow crab to Canadian fishermen were reported by Undercover News at a record $4.56 (U.S.), adding that they could top $7 per pound. Russia is the second-largest snow crab producer with a harvest of nearly 98 million pounds in its year round fishery this year. Much of the product goes to markets in China, Korea, and the U.S., where imports in 2020 were up by 80 percent to 42 million pounds valued at nearly $341 million. “And with the Russian quota increasing almost 35 percent in 2021, there is anticipation that even more snow crab from Russia will come into the U.S.,” according to Urner-Barry in its spring report. Alaska is the world’s third-largest snow crab producer with a catch this year of 45 million pounds for the fishery that began last Oct. 15 and ends in mid-May. The crab, which weigh 1.2 pounds on average, are sold primarily in frozen leg clusters to markets in the U.S., Japan and China for reprocessing. Advance prices to fishermen for Alaska snow crab were reported at $3 per pound but lengthy sales negotiations are likely to push that higher. Alaska’s snow crab fleet of about 60 boats received a record average advance price last year of $3.15 per pound for a 34 million-pound harvest valued at nearly $106 million. If all the snow crab catches come in as planned, it will add up to more than 300 million pounds for global markets this year, a 13 million-pound increase over 2020. And while Alaska is deservedly famous for its crab – meaning snow, king crab, Tanners and Dungeness – it’s a small player providing just 6 percent of global supply. Herring hauls The roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound ended on April 9 after two weeks of daily fishing. A fleet of about 20 seiners took an estimated 32 million pounds, less than half of the allowable harvest. Herring fishing at Kodiak began on April 1, two weeks earlier than usual, due to an earlier spawn across the island’s five fishing districts. By last week, 13 boats had taken less than half of the 16 million-pound harvest limit, the largest ever. The fish were looking good although the fleet was standing down for a few days to let more of the roe ripen, said James Jackson, area manager for the Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. He added that up to nine tenders also are on the ground and five processors are buying herring. Word on the docks is that the herring are fetching $300 per ton for fishermen, or about 6 cents per pound. The earlier start at Kodiak means that more boats could head to Togiak at Bristol Bay when that herring fishery gets underway, usually in early May. It will depend on how many processors show up to buy. Togiak is Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, this year with a whopping harvest guideline of more than 85 million pounds, the highest since 1993. Last year only 3 boats and one buyer showed up there for the fishery that ran from May 4 to 16 when the boats dropped out. In 2020 the total Alaska roe herring harvest of 17.3 million pounds was valued at just less than $8 million. Water watchers A state judge recommended last week that the state Department of Environmental Conservation was wrong to issue a Clean Water Act certificate to Donlin Mine, the world’s largest gold mine planned upstream from villages along the Kuskokwim River. The state initially issued a “certificate of reasonable assurance” to Donlin in August 2018, saying it believed Donlin’s operations would comply with state water standards, reported KYUK in Bethel. The certificate is a precursor to one of the biggest state permits Donlin needs before it can begin constructing and operating its gold mine, which requires more than 100 state permits. “The Orutsararmiut Native Council challenged the certificate, contending the state cannot have “reasonable assurance” the mine won’t violate water standards. Specifically, the tribe said the state can’t guarantee Donlin will maintain Alaska’s environmental standards for mercury levels, water temperature and fish habitat,” KYUK said. DEC’s water division may respond to the proposed decision by May 5 along with the tribal council and Donlin Mine. The final decision will rest with DEC Commissioner Jason Brune when the administrative law judge’s proposed decision and all responses to it are before him. More than 1,000 Alaskans spoke out against the state’s plans to change the rules that regulate the use of water in salmon streams during a public comment period that ended on April 2. The Department of Natural Resources claims the changes are needed “to provide clarity and consistency in the Division of Mining, Land and Water’s processes.” The changes would give developers the rights to take water from streams but would not allow other entities to hold instream water reservations to protect fish stocks. The Alaska Miners Association in 2018 blamed “anti-development entities” for using instream flow reservations to stop projects, claiming the solution is to “place an immediate moratorium on processing applications and pursue regulatory changes to ensure that only state agencies can hold reservations of state water.” A legislative hearing has been requested. Finally, the Japanese government announced it will dump 250 million gallons of treated but still radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean that has been stored in massive tanks at the Fukushima nuclear plant that was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2011, calling it “the most practical solution.” The release will begin within two years and the government said it “will do its utmost to provide compensation to fishermen for any damages.” Big NOAA budget boost President Biden has proposed a 25 percent budget increase to nearly $7 billion in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would be the biggest in the agency’s history if it gets congressional approval. That is $1.4 billion more than NOAA received for this current budget year. National efforts to fight climate change served as a primary motivator for the budget boost. “This increase includes $800 million to expand investments in climate research, support regional and local decision-making with climate data and tools, and improve community resilience to climate change,” said an April 9 budget document. “These investments would support an expanded and improved drought early-warning system, as well as competitive grants to build coastal resilience to help reduce the costly economic and environmental impacts of severe weather events on communities.” This would help protect communities from the economic and environmental impacts of climate change, and invest in modern infrastructure to enable these critical efforts. NOAA’s responsibilities include weather forecasting, climate research, ocean research, maintaining the health of U.S. fisheries and protection of endangered marine species. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Union seeking seafaring apprentices

Alaska fishermen displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic are being recruited for seafaring jobs aboard U.S. cargo barges, tankers, towboats, military support vessels, research and cruise ships and more. The Seafarers International Union is searching nationally for 300 apprentice workers on the vessels they are contracted to crew. Recruiters tout Alaskans as being at the top of their list. “The reason for that is people from Alaska come with a work ethic already. They’ve been working since they could stand up. And that’s why they’re so good,” said Bart Rogers, assistant vice president at the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Maryland that has trained mariners for the SIU for over 50 years. “It’s very appealing to people who live in Alaska because they can sail in a safe environment, earn a very good wage, get benefits and medical coverage for them and their family, advanced training is guaranteed, then they can go back home and spend the money they make,” said Rich Berkowitz, vice president of Pacific Coast Operations at Seattle’s Transportation Institute, who helps recruit and assess potential mariners, adding that it also includes options for veterans and Native hire. Currently, the call is out to train workers for positions as Able Seafarer Deck (a qualification needed to sail internationally), chief cooks and stewards. The training programs vary from several months to a year, Rogers said, adding that there is no tuition to attend the school but does require some incidental costs. Berkowitz pointed out another lure for Alaskans. After they’ve made it through the training and onto the ships, they can schedule trips that still let them go fishing. “Let’s say they’re in hospitality trades, they can work a good portion of the cruise season and then spend three or four months working in a fishing season,” he said. Ralph Mirsky, director of Ketchikan-based nonprofit Sealink has recruited nearly 600 Alaskans to the maritime trades over 20 years. “And the reason for that is real simple,” he said. “They make a lot of money in a short period of time, and they can still do what they want at home.” Women comprise about 15 percent of the U.S. seagoing workforce, estimated at 14,000. “There’s at least two or three in every class,” Bart Rogers said. “And don’t get me wrong, but the women are smarter and work harder than the men all day long.” Berkowitz added that Alaska gets an economic lift from its residents working in maritime trades. “All the time on planes in Seattle I see oil workers flying back and forth to Alaska from Montana or Texas to work two weeks on and off on the Slope. What we’re doing is the opposite,” he said. “We’re flying Alaskans Outside where they make all their money and then they bring it back. They’re not spending anything while they’re on the vessels. So this is a net contributor to the state’s economy, rather than a drain on it.” Learn more at https://mymaritimecareer.org/about/. Fishing updates It’s hard to believe, but in little more than a month, Alaska’s salmon season will officially get underway when sockeyes and chinook return to the Copper River near Cordova. Meanwhile, there’s lots of fishing action across the state. It’s been slow going at Sitka Sound where about 20 seiners continue to tap on a 67 million pound herring harvest. A herring spawn on kelp fishery also is ongoing at Craig and Klawock with a nearly 38 million-pound harvest, the highest ever. Kodiak’s herring fishery is ongoing with a 16 million pound catch limit. Divers continue going down for more than a half-million pounds of geoduck clams. The sea cucumber fishery closed on March 31 with an allowable harvest of 1.7 million pounds. A ling cod fishery opens in Southeast on May 16 with a 310,700-pound quota. Prince William Sound’s popular pot shrimp fishery opens on April 15 with a 70,000-pound catch limit. The region also just wrapped up a small Tanner crab fishery. Kodiak’s Dungeness fishery opens in one region on May 1 with another opener following in mid-June. Cook Inlet opens for 150 tons of bait herring (300,000 pounds) from April 20 through May, and a smelt fishery opens on May 1 through June for 200 tons (400,000 pounds). In the Bering Sea, crabbers had taken nearly 80 percent of their 40.5 million-pound snow crab harvest, along with 62 percent of a 2.1 million-pound Tanner crab limit and 80 percent of a 6 million-pound golden king crab quota. Fishing continues in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for pollock, cod, flounders and many other kinds of fish. Sablefish (black cod) catches were approaching three million pounds out of a 43.4 million pound quota. Sitka was getting the most deliveries and paying nicely in five poundage categories: less than 2, $1; 2 to 3 pounds, $2.10; 3 to 4 pounds, $2.40; 4 to 5 pounds, $2.85; 5 to 7 pounds, $3.65; and 7-ups, $5.35 (h/t to the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits). Prices per pound for halibut reached $6 at Homer and $6.15 at Seward, although catches remained sluggish. Landings finally topped 1 million pounds out of a 19 million-pound catch limit with Juneau leading all ports for landings. And after five years of talk, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council could tap the brakes on halibut taken as bycatch by 18 Bering Sea trawl catcher/processors that target flounders, perch and mackerel. The boats are required by federal law to toss all halibut overboard as a “prohibited species” catch. Unlike other commercial, sport and subsistence users whose halibut catches fluctuate each year according to the health of the stock, the Seattle-based trawlers have a fixed bycatch cap of 7.3 million pounds. The council will consider basing that bycatch cap instead according to annual halibut abundance levels. Farewell to Phil Lifelong Alaskan, friend and mentor Phil Smith died peacefully at his Juneau home on March 30, surrounded by his family. He was 78. Phil served on the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission from 1983 to 1991. In 1995 NOAA Fisheries called on him to craft and implement Alaska’s first Individual Fishing Quota program for halibut and sablefish, a model for others to come across the U.S. Under his direction, a Subsistence Halibut Registration Certificate permit was created which enabled subsistence fishing for rural residents and Alaska Natives. Phil was invited to speak at international conferences to discuss that program and served as an expert for the U.N. advising Chile on its fisheries management reforms. His positive impacts on Alaska’s fisheries management, among other things, will last forever. In the words of his son, Crispian, Phil’s unique combination of incisive intelligence, encyclopedic knowledge, and boundless love affected and inspired many. He will be deeply missed. Donations may be made to the Sitka Summer Music Festival or Veterans for Peace Chapter 100 scholarship fund at Juneau. Heatwaves, algal blooms and birds, oh my! The Kodiak archipelago is featured at a virtual Marine Science Symposium set for April 19 to 22. Hosted by Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory program, it’s the fourth regional gathering that connects the island community to the science and research going on around it. The keynote speaker is Dr. Steve Barbeaux of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center who will describe how unprecedented warming in the Gulf of Alaska caused a cod crash in 2018 and a fishery shut down in 2020, and how the stock might fair in a warming world. Also on the agenda are brief talks on local subsistence harvests, harmful algal blooms, birds and crab. Register for free at www.alaskaseagrant.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Senate delegation battles Coast Guard over masks, administration over Russian seafood

The mask requirement for all persons aboard fishing vessels still stands and Alaska’s U.S. senators are adding their clout to have it removed. A Coast Guard a Marine Safety Information Bulletin issued on March 22 states its authority to restrict vessel access to ports and operations if they fail to follow the rules as defined by the Center for Disease Control. “Vessels that have not implemented the mask requirement may be issued a Captain of the Port order directing the vessel’s movement and operations; repeated failure to impose the mask mandate could result in civil and/or criminal enforcement action,” the bulletin says. The CDC mask requirement has been interpreted by the Coast Guard to apply to “all forms of commercial maritime vessels,” including cargo ships, fishing vessels, research vessels and self-propelled barges.” It requires “all travelers” to wear a mask, including those who have been vaccinated, according to National Fisherman which added, “Why commercial fishing vessels have been included in a requirement written for airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, trolleys, and cable cars has yet to be explained by the Coast Guard.” “Senator Murkowski and I have been pressing this relentlessly on a call with the Coast Guard commandant, a call with the White House guy who’s supposedly in charge of all the CDC issues, we had a meeting with the head of the CDC, we are trying to explain to them how, no offense, but just how stupid this is and how uninformed it is,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said last week at a ComFish forum. “And it could be a safety issue, not with regard to COVID, but with having to wear masks when you’re out on the deck of a ship in 30 foot waves trying to bring in gear or pots. So, we’re going to continue to work on that one.” “The CDC has planted their heels on this one as I understand it,” echoed Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Certainly, from a realistic standpoint, it makes no sense. So we’re on the front side of that conversation.” Vincent-Lang added that he is speaking with members of other coastal states and hopes to garner support to overturn the mask requirement. “I think to the extent that we can form some kind of a unified position on this issue across more states, we stand a better chance of changing it. Because this is a CDC guidance which can be changed depending upon how they get policy direction from the White House. And if they hear from other coastal states in addition to Alaska, they’ll probably be more inclined to do it,” he said. Feedback on the masking rule can be given at [email protected] Trade talk Alaska’s senators also spoke candidly about ongoing trade policies with Russia that hurt the U.S. seafood industry, and expressed hope for change under the new administration. Russia stopped purchasing any foods from the U.S. and other nations that imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and businesses after its illegal land-grab of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Meanwhile, U.S. purchases of seafood from Russia have increased every year. Russian seafood imports to the U.S. in 2020, for example, topped 97.5 million pounds valued at nearly $1 billion, compared to 80.2 million pounds in 2019 valued at nearly $698 million. “I think it was the one area where the Trump administration was kind of weak. I thought we could have done more,” said Sullivan, calling the lack of action “a disappointment.” Sullivan said he raised the issue “front and center” in a recent meeting with new U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and called her “very impressive.” “I said, look, it’s just ridiculous. Six years! I mean, that embargo started at the end of the Obama administration and the whole Trump administration,” he said. “Meanwhile, most of their fish comes in almost duty free, and they’re taking market share from our fishermen in America. She’s going to look hard at this.” Murkowski added that she intends to raise the trade imbalance with new Secretary of State Antony Blinken and encourage him to include it in diplomatic discussions with Russia. “The fact that this has been in place for as long as it has, the fact that it has caused harm to our fisheries is something that the education needs to continue at different levels,” she said. “You’ve got U.S. trade, but you’ve also got the State Department with regards to the relationship that you have with Russia. This is one thing that I think we all agree we have got to have addressed. It has been going on for far, far too long and quite honestly, it’s untenable.” Both senators also said they spoke with the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor when they recently passed through Anchorage on their way to China and “pressed them hard to work on tariffs that the Chinese have put on our exports.” Murkowski and Sullivan also addressed many more topics at ComFish, including actions they are taking to mitigate climate change. View the full presentation at www.comfishak.com. Hatchery hauls Last year nearly 31 million salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries were caught in commercial fisheries, or 27 percent of the statewide harvest. The dockside value of $69 million comprised 23 percent of the state’s total salmon value. That’s according to the annual salmon enhancement report newly released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There are 30 hatcheries producing salmon in Alaska, of which 26 are operated by private, nonprofits funded primarily from sales of a portion of the returns, called cost recovery. There also are two state-run sport fish hatcheries, one research hatchery operated by NOAA Fisheries, and one hatchery operated by the Metlakatla Indian community. At Prince William Sound, where six hatcheries operate, about 15 million hatchery salmon were harvested in 2020. Those fish accounted for 70 percent of the total commercial catch that was worth nearly $27 million at the docks, or 67 percent of the total value for the region. At Southeast Alaska, 14 hatcheries operate, split between northern and southern regions. Last year, fewer than 4 million hatchery salmon were caught accounting for 45 percent of the total harvest and 52 percent of the value to fishermen at $18 million. Two hatcheries operate at Kodiak where last year nearly 5 million salmon were harvested worth about $5 million, or 11 percent of the total dockside value. Nearly all of the fish were pinks. The three hatcheries at Cook Inlet produced just less than 200,000 salmon valued at $585,000, or 6.9 percent of the region’s total to fishermen. Alaska’s combined hatcheries released 1.7 billion juvenile salmon in 2020 and are projecting a return this year of nearly 66 million fish. Get schooled! A first-ever, field-based Alaskan Aquaculture Semester in Sitka is being offered this fall to a dozen students fromAlaska and across the nation. It’s part of the University of Alaska/Southeast Fisheries Technology Program that has been preparing students for jobs throughout the industry since 2009 with classes focusing on aquaculture and salmon enhancement and fisheries management. The aquaculture semester adds in more direct training on the water. “Students will come here and be able to get 13 credits of instruction with courses in salmon culture and mariculture, and also in cold water survival,” said Angie Bowers, assistant professor with the Fish Tech Program. “And they’re going to learn how to drive boats and fix motors and tie knots and how to be safe. They will also be able to do an internship based on whatever they’re interested in. We’ll tour processors, they will be able to help out at local hatcheries and shadow fishermen.” There are three salmon hatcheries in the region where students will help with egg takes and learn about fish pathology and rearing prior to the tiny salmon heading out to sea. Bowers said students also will be introduced to shellfish and kelp farming. “Because of the timing of the semester, that’s not the typical growing season for kelp, but we will be able to identify species of kelp and make the seed string that gets out-planted on a kelp farm. We will be visiting an oyster farm and we’ll try to incorporate as much of that mariculture experience as we can,” she said. Students also can get certified in SCUBA diving within the University program that trains scientific divers across the entire system. The Fish Tech Program is the university’s only one and two-year, entry level applied fisheries program. There has been a 10-fold growth since it began 12 years ago in Ketchikan and graduates now work for agencies or organizations across Alaska and in the Lower 48, said director Joel Marcus. Part of the program’s success, he said, is that nearly all classes can be taken remotely. But the new Aquaculture semester will focus on being out on the water. Only 12 students will be accepted for the fall semester that starts on Aug. 23 and runs through December. Visit Salmon Culture Semester to learn more or email Angie Bowers at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ‘Back to the future’ for canned Alaska salmon

It’s “back to the future” for Alaska canned salmon as more Americans choose it for its health benefits and as an easy-to-use ingredient for sandwiches, salads and more. Salmon canning in Alaska started in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, it was the state’s largest industry, generating 80 percent of the territorial tax revenues. Its position then in the state economy is one that oil enjoys today. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed record sales for the pantry shelf product and canned salmon sales soared by 30.3 percent in 2020 to $286 million. “Suddenly, there was double the demand for an item that’s normally very predictable,” said John Daly, manager of domestic canned sales for OBI Seafoods, Alaska’s largest producer of canned pink and sockeye salmon at nine plants across the state. “It’s not like the seafood counter at grocery stores. The canned fish business is the grocery business. It’s a center store aisle item. The best ability is availability, and that was really important because consumers were willing to buy anything and everything that was shelf stable and canned.” Daly said canned salmon “ticks all the boxes” that people want during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The conscious consumer is looking for things that are healthy, that are sustainable, that aren’t loaded up with questionable ingredients, they know where the fish comes from,” he explained. “Canned fish is one of the cleanest items in a grocery store. There’s two ingredients on the label, salt and fish.” Demand was so high it was a challenge last year to keep the retail shelves stocked. “We only fish for salmon three months out of the year and in March 2020, we were working off the last bit of the 2019 inventory and there’s not mounds of canned salmon lying around at the time of the year,” he said. “So it was an interesting time for salmon producers to react quickly to make sure they could keep their product in front of people but also not run out.” Sales have slowed to more normal levels, Daly said, adding that “normal isn’t pre-pandemic levels anymore. It’s about a 10 percent increase from that. That obviously means that canned salmon has gotten in front of more people and they’ve made repeat purchases. We want to capitalize on that.” Canned fish today accounts for only about 5 percent of Alaska’s salmon products. Of that, about 20 percent is canned sockeye which goes mostly to Canada, Europe and Australia. The bulk is pink salmon which for more than 100 years has predominantly been sold regionally across the U.S. Most of the sales have been driven by older Americans; Daly said a goal is to broaden appeal to younger buyers. “A longer term goal is to produce an item that’s more in line with what a younger consumer’s looking for. Maybe it’s a pouched grab and go snack, maybe it’s flavor added,” he said. Daly is convinced that Alaska’s oldest salmon product has the staying power to remain as one of the state’s most well-known tastes of history. “There was an article two years ago that said millennials don’t even own a can opener, so how is that going to go for canned fish?” he quipped. “Ever since I’ve been in the industry, I’ve heard that canned salmon is dying. And here we are with record numbers.” AK salmon gets swamped Alaska wild salmon accounts for only about 13 percent of the global salmon supply and competition will ramp up this year from other producers, notably Russia. Alaska is expected to produce a total harvest this year topping 190 million salmon, adding up to 880 million pounds. Global seafood supplier Tradex reports that a harvest of 300 million salmon is projected from Russia, topping 1 billion pounds. Much of that Russian salmon will compete with Alaskan fish in supermarkets across America and with international customers. Last year the U.S. imported nearly 38 million pounds of Russian-caught salmon products valued at over $14 million. Of that, 2.3 million pounds was sockeye salmon, valued at nearly $9 million. Yet Russia has not purchased one pound of any U.S. seafood since 2014. Meanwhile, Tradex President Rob Reierson said even more wild salmon will be added to the pack from other nations. “Globally, a veteran wild Pacific salmon expert projected an estimated 930,000 metric tons (over 2 billion pounds) of Pacific salmon to be harvested from all countries including Canada, Japan, and Korea in 2021.” But the numbers for wild caught salmon pale in comparison to farmed fish, which now captures nearly 74 percent of the world’s overall salmon production. Salmon farmers, led by Norway and Chile, are expected to produce nearly 6 billion pounds this year. And global reports say farmed and wild-caught combined are not expected to come near to satisfying the world’s demand for salmon. Herring ho-hum It’s a big year for Alaska roe herring fisheries but lackluster interest by both harvesters and processors is an ongoing story. The fishery at Sitka Sound opened on March 27 after a two-year stall due to small fish and a weak market. The seine fleet this year has a harvest of 33,304 tons (nearly 67 million pounds), but managers predict low participation and limited processing capacity. Ten or 15 boats could fish starting April 1 at Kodiak for one of its biggest fisheries in decades at 7,895 tons (16 million pounds). Togiak at Bristol Bay is Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, this year with a whopping 42,639-ton harvest (more than 85 million pounds). Last year only 3 boats and one buyer showed up there during the May fishery. The reason? The herring market has tanked over two decades by disinterest from the single buyer, Japan, where tastes and buying policies have changed. In the 1990s, Alaska fishermen fetched $1,000 per ton or more, and while product from Sitka today might pay out at a few hundred dollars a ton, at Togiak the price has been $50 to $75 for several years. Alaska’s herring catch in 2020 was so low that all data remain confidential. “It is maybe the most extreme example I’m aware of how a major Alaska industry could be dependent on an extremely specialized foreign market,” Gunnar Knapp, a retired University of Alaska fisheries economist, told KDLG in Dillingham. Robert Heyano, who has fished at Togiak for more than four decades, added that, “the industry needs to find other ways to sell its herring, such as bait or food.” Waste is another issue. Herring is frozen and usually shipped to Japan where the roe is extracted. The male fish have almost no value and are mostly turned into fishmeal, sold as bait or ground up and dumped. That’s also the fate of the female carcasses after their roe is taken. It’s estimated that only 12 percent of Pacific herring is used for human consumption. A report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute claims that if the discarded herring was instead turned into fillets, it would increase the first wholesale value by $11 million per year. Alaska’s herring fisheries have been managed for sac roe since the 1970s but today the fish is far more valuable as bait. At Dutch Harbor, for example, bait herring pays out at more than $500 per ton; at Cook Inlet it brings at least $1 per pound for fishermen. Ironically, many Alaska fishermen purchase herring for use as bait from the East Coast. Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the state Commercial Fisheries Division, agreed that it could be time for a change. “Those are regulations that the Board of Fish could modify,” he said. “If a person said we want to increase this opportunity or provide an additional opportunity to obtain their own bait, that is something the board could take a look at. And if we are in areas where the harvestable surplus isn’t being taken in the sac roe fishery, why not allow it in a different fishery.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut prices start strong but catch rates slow

Halibut prices for Alaska fishermen for 2021 started out significantly higher than last year, despite sluggish demand and transportation logjams in some regions. The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and two weeks later only 80 deliveries were made: 46 at Southeast ports and 34 from the Central Gulf totaling 355,524 pounds. Most landings appeared to be small lots that were purchased on consignment. The first fish typically fetches higher prices and then drops off as the season progresses. No Alaska ports reported paying less than $5 per pound whereas the 2020 price to Alaska fishermen averaged $4. Early prices at Sitka and Juneau, where there is daily air service, were reported at $5.50 to $5.75 per pound, up by a dollar from last year, and deliveries at Petersburg paid out at $5.75 straight. No ferry service and high costs for airfreight bit into buying at nearly all Southeast ports where major processors said they aren’t purchasing halibut until April or May. Fishermen delivering to Homer were paid $5.50 per pound, also up by more than a dollar. Other buyers on the Kenai Peninsula were paying $5.25 to $5.45 for 10- to 20-pounders and slightly more for larger fish. Reports from Whittier pegged the price at $5.50 to $5.75. Except for small amounts bought on consignment, few halibut sales were reported at Kodiak where the price was reported at $5 per pound straight. Pacific halibut from Alaska has been getting hit hard in recent years by fish from Eastern Canada, mostly Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with one Alaska buyer saying that region is now in the “front seat” for fresh market sales. Federal trade data show that in 2020, more than 10.5 million pounds of Atlantic halibut were imported to the U.S. from that region, valued at $70.2 million. Another 1.5 million pounds of Pacific halibut came into the U.S. from British Columbia valued at $22 million. Alaska halibut fishermen also are getting pinched from fresh farmed halibut from Norway which last year totaled about one million pounds, valued at $6.3 million. Halibut caught by Russian fleets and processed into frozen fillets in China also is making inroads into U.S. markets and underselling all others. In 2019 that totaled 2 million pounds, valued at nearly $7 million. Alaska’s catch limit for Pacific halibut is 19.6 million pounds. The fishery was extended by one month this year and will run through Dec. 7. New twists to seafood sales  Seafood sales set records at U.S. retail last year and the trend is continuing. Sales of fresh, frozen and pantry shelf items increased by nearly 30 percent in 2020 to almost $17 billion, outpacing meat, produce, and deli items. Perceptions of health and wellness are driving the surge, according to Seafood Source and a newly released Power of Seafood 2021 report from FMI-The Food Industry Association. In a national survey, FMI found that one-third of Americans ate seafood twice a week in the past year and nearly 60 percent said they believed upping their intake boosts their immune systems. A whopping 75 percent said they are eager to learn more about cooking seafood and want to be more knowledgeable about preparing and flavoring it. How and where seafood is caught also was important and 36 percent said they preferred wild-caught fish “because it is more nutritious.” However, preference for farm raised fish grew to 29 percent, up 10 points from 2019, with 35 percent saying it has better traceability than wild and is a healthier option.  “I believe there is more acceptance about farm-raised seafood due to more awareness about farm-raised options. Also, salmon is a major species in seafood and often farm-raised salmon is lower priced compared to wild-caught options,” Rick Stein, FMI Vice President of Fresh Foods, told SeafoodSource. The FMI report also showed that plant-based imitations have become more accepted by U.S. shoppers. Another report by Barclays claims that the fake fish industry is estimated to be worth $140 billion within the next decade, and could capture 10 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry. Nearly 60 percent of frequent seafood eaters said they are likely to try such products, while 31 percent said they would not. There also was a high correlation with healthy eating, and 62 percent cited sustainability as a major reason for turning to fish imitations. Overall, 71 percent of American consumers said they are concerned about seafood sustainability, with 41 percent saying it is a top factor in their buying choices.  That was most evident among younger consumers Seafood Source said, citing a survey by GlobeScan shared during a Seafood Expo North America panel that called it “a key trend among seafood purchasing.” Since 1999, GlobeScan has asked thousands of seafood consumers worldwide if they choose to reward companies that show they are “socially responsible.” Through 2017, about 20 percent said they would consider doing so, but in 2020 that number increased to 38 percent. The recent survey found that 70 percent of consumers want more information from companies about sustainability and 63 percent want to be able to trace their fish purchases back to a trusted source. But only 25 percent said they actually look for ecolabels on products, except for those aged 18-34. “That is something to really keep an eye on,” said Walmart Senior Manager of Sustainability Marife Casem. “There’s really a power in this generation,” she said. “They read not only the labels but the story behind the packaging.” “The younger consumer is really leading the way and influencing change,” said Kristen Stevens, senior marketing manager for the Marine Stewardship Council, which spearheaded the seafood ecolabel movement over 20 years ago. “I suspect we’re going to continue to see this momentum caused by this younger generation.” ComFish takes virtual to a new level  Kodiak’s ComFish Alaska trade show later this month puts the “social” back into social distancing.  Attendees can move in and out of forums and the trade show just like in-person events thanks to a new platform called Hopin. “It is not some boring Zoom meeting where you just have to sit and listen, it is nothing like that,” said Sarah Phillips, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, host of ComFish for 41 years. “Hopin is a completely immersive, engaging social experience. I think social is that key word that we've been missing out on so many of these virtual meetings.” Nearly 30 exhibitors have signed up so far for the event, scheduled for Mach 30 and 31. “It allows you to visit exhibitor booths, see what kind of specials and discounts they are offering, and engage face to face with the representative,” she explained. The forum line up provides the same opportunities. They include appearances by Alaska’s congressional delegation and state lawmakers, updates from the governor’s office, marketing, fishery updates, crab research, sea stories and much more. “Any questions that you type into the chat box will be answered by the moderator or the presenters. And afterwards, some of our speakers are willing to go into a private, face to face session,” Phillips added.  Hopin also provides for enhanced connections to socializing with anyone who’s registered for ComFish. “As soon as you log in, you'll be able to see every person that's registered. You can click on their name and request a video chat or schedule a meeting, the possibilities are endless. It’s just like if you were at ComFish and you run into someone you haven't seen in a long time and say gosh, I'd love to catch up. And if there's a few people you see, you can get the whole gang together.” Phillips credits local and corporate sponsors for enabling the Chamber to purchase the Hopin platform for ComFish. “People have really stepped up because they know the importance of this show to not only our community, but all of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.” Registering for free at www.comfishak.com also enters your name for prizes and a sneak peek of the Hopin platform. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Pinks drive projected increase in salmon haul

Alaska’s salmon harvest for 2021 is projected to be a big one with total catches producing a haul that could be 61 percent higher than last year, due mostly to an expected surge of pinks. Fishery managers are predicting a statewide catch topping 190 million fish compared to 118.3 million in 2020. The break down by species includes 46.6 million sockeye salmon (a 203,000 increase); 3.8 million cohos (1.4 million higher); 15.3 million chums (6.7 million more); 296,000 chinook (up by 4,000); and 124.2 million pink salmon (a 63.5 million increase). In its report titled Run Forecasts and Harvest Projections for 2021 Alaska Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2020 Season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides breakdowns for all species by region. Along with the projected 49 percent increase in pink salmon catches, Bristol Bay will again rule the day with sockeye runs to the region’s nine river systems expected to exceed 51 million fish and a harvest of 36.35 million reds, or 13 percent higher than the 10-year average. Other highlights: the Southeast Alaska pink salmon harvest of 28 million is predicted to be in the average range. The total all-species take for the region is projected at 40.2 million fish. At Copper River, the sockeye catch is projected at a meager 844,000 fish and 13,000 chinook salmon. For Prince William Sound, the total salmon harvest forecast calls for 59.7 million fish, of which nearly 55 million are pinks. Upper Cook Inlet fishermen are projected to take just more than 2 million salmon this summer, including 1.64 million sockeyes. At Lower Cook Inlet the all-salmon forecast calls for a harvest of 3.2 million fish, of which 1.8 million are pinks. Kodiak fishermen are expected to haul in 25.6 million salmon, including two million sockeyes and 22.5 million pinks. At Chignik, a catch of 3.1 million salmon is projected of mostly pinks. Fishermen at the South Alaska Peninsula could have an “excellent” haul of pink salmon of nearly 13 million. For the Arctic-Yukon Kuskokwim region, managers predict below average fisheries across the board, including a catch of just over half a million chum salmon. Grants for gear For more than a decade, derelict fishing nets, lines, pots and other marine debris has generated enough electricity to power over 44,000 homes per year. That’s thanks to the Fishing for Energy program and its partners who are now looking to gather more gear at no cost to fishermen or coastal communities through its annual grant program. Fishing for Energy is an arm of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which works with nearly 60 U.S. fishing communities in 14 states to help them dispose of old gear. Through March 2020 the program provided collection bins at 56 ports and collected more than 4 million pounds of gear normally destined for landfills, or which often ends up as derelict marine debris. In many cases, the old nets and pots are first sorted at Schnitzer Steel Industries where the metals are recycled into rebar wire rod and other specialty products. The remaining materials are converted into renewable energy at Covanta Energy-from-Waste facilities across the nation. Annually, Covanta converts nearly 22 million tons of waste from municipalities and businesses into clean, renewable electricity to power one million homes. Eligible grant applicants have been expanded to include non-profits, state, local, municipal and tribal government agencies and organizations, educational institutions and ports. Non-federal matches in cash or in-kind services are strongly encouraged but not required. Priorities this year include $15,000 grants for existing or new ports to install gear collection bins, or $10,000 to host gear collection events. Other grants averaging from $75,000 to $150,000 will be awarded for Capacity and Logistics Development for long-term fishing gear removal programs. To date, Fishing for Energy has awarded over $5 million in gear removal grants to more than 55 projects in 17 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Deadline to apply for the latest round of grants is March 30. Find links to an Easy Grants Help Desk at [email protected], or contact [email protected] Check out a video at nbcnews.com called Fishing for Energy, ocean debris turned into fuel in Florida. COVID-19 cash for more fishing sectors The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021that was recently signed into law includes $4 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase food and agricultural commodities for distribution, including seafood. A breakdown by Undercurrent News shows that the money, which must be used during the 2021 fiscal year, also can be made available for grants and loans for small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to COVID-19, including for measures to protect workers against the virus. The Act also will prioritize grants to “small business concerns owned and controlled by women, veterans, or those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.” Grants to eligible businesses will not exceed $10 million and also will be limited to $5 million per physical location. Seafood.com reports that grant funds can be used for expenses incurred as a direct result of, or during, the pandemic, including payroll costs; payments of principal or interest on mortgages; rent payments; utilities; maintenance expenses such as constructing outdoor seating; supplies, including protective equipment and cleaning materials; food and beverage expenses; supplier costs; operational expenses; paid sick leave; and “any other expenses that the Administrator determines to be essential to maintaining the eligible entity.” The Rescue Plan narrowly passed last week by a 50-49 vote in the U.S. Senate. Both Alaska Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan voted against the bill. Fish Board push back The state Board of Fisheries voted unanimously on March 8 to not double up its meeting cycle to include two Alaska regions, and instead advance them by one year. The board, which regulates commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in state waters, meaning out to three miles, would normally be wrapping up a roster this month that included 275 proposals for Southeast, Yakutat, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish. But the ongoing Covid pandemic curtailed those plans. “Starting in October of 2021 it will do its work session followed by a Prince William Sound meeting in November and December and the Southeast finfish and shellfish meetings in January, and then do its statewide all shellfish meeting in March of 2022,” said boards director Glenn Haight. In October 2022, the Board’s work session will be followed by a two-day Pacific cod meeting and then fishery issues for Bristol Bay and Chignik, the Bering Sea, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula regions. The doubling up faced push back from the public and regional advisory committees. “I think it was an admirable thing that the board was trying to get back on track in regard to the pandemic we’re dealing with. Recognizing the headwinds and navigating through the comments, I think it’s important that we listen to the constituents,” said unconfirmed member Abe Williams. The double up also would have cost an additional half million dollars in a supplemental budget, said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Haight advised that the call for proposals for Bristol Bay, Chignik and regions further west that were due on May 10 of this year also has been extended. “For anyone out there fastidiously creating proposals for those meetings to turn them in this May, no need to hurry as you’ll have almost a full year.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: More surveys out seeking COVID-19 impacts

It’s likely that no other fishing regions of the world reach out for stakeholder input as much as Alaska does to gather policy-shaping ground truth by state and federal managers and organizations. That’s demonstrated by two new surveys: one which aims to quantify how much Alaska fishermen and processors paid out over the past year to lessen COVID-19 impacts and how much relief they got from government programs; the other to learn what technology needs are tops with harvesters. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is collecting information not available elsewhere on the pandemic impacts. Processors are being asked about financial losses due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, plant closures and employment changes, as well as their expectations for costs and employment levels in 2021, explained Jenna Dickinson, a consultant with the McKinley Research Group who is working with ASMI on the project. Processor costs include but are not limited to charter flights and hotel put-ups for worker quarantines, plant modifications, medical and testing supplies and related services. Many fishermen also paid for similar coverages for their crews. “We are similarly asking permit holders about the financial impacts of the pandemic, their hiring levels in 2020 compared to 2019 (pre- COVID-19), their estimates for anticipated costs in 2021, and whether the pandemic has caused them to sell or buy permits, boats or other assets, reduce crew, stop fishing entirely or make other changes to their fishing operations,” she explained. Both processors and fishermen also are being asked whether COVID-19 relief payments covered their 2020 losses, Dickinson added. Data from the surveys, which will be revealed by early May, will be used to provide policy makers and other stakeholders a clear picture of the condition of the industry one year into the pandemic. The surveys are open through March 18. Find both at www.alaskaseafood.org under Announcements. Also, as part of ASMI’s ongoing work with McKinley to understand and report on COVID-19 impacts on Alaska’s seafood industry, a series of briefing papers is available at the ASMI website. The January brief, for example, describes COVID-19 impacts to global freight costs, how a surplus of frozen farmed salmon causes uncertainty for wild salmon markets, and anticipated hits to tax revenues for coastal communities in 2021. Questions? Contact Ashley Heimbigner at [email protected] or Jenna Dickinson at [email protected] Top tech needs Another survey by Seafood Harvesters of America asks U.S. fishermen to help identify technology priorities that can be scaled up to benefit all users. “This survey rose out of the recognition that the fishing industry needs a lot of advancements in the technology department,” said SHA Executive Director Leigh Habegger. “A lot of times we see vessels using technology that’s 10 to 15 years old and they haven’t really caught up with all the advances. Another part of this is that it’s not always clear how technology can be applied to fishing vessels as they are very unique platforms,” “There’s so much automation going on in terms of sensors that are uploading automatically to the cloud, and data centers in general are getting a lot more sophisticated and better able to predict where fish are to reduce bycatch, fish more efficiently and treat our product better. These are all things that are very possible with the current technology that’s out there,” agreed Edward Poulson, SHA vice-president and a spokesman for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “But being in the fishing industry, we’re pretty conservative. We know what works and we’re not super excited about trying things that we don’t know. That kind of keeps us more firmly footed in the 20th century instead of the 21st century.” “A lot of the technology innovations in terms of deck machinery, sorting tables, launchers, coiling machines, those are all things that were developed in the ‘70s and we’re still using that stuff,” Poulson added. “There’s been very little in terms of change but I think there are a lot more opportunities. Broadly scaling tech advances also is a big challenge to make them cost effective for developers, Poulson said, and something designed for a specific problem or region can mean the user group is too small. “If a tech company is designing something that is only going to be used for something difficult to build like an automated pot hauler, that’s super expensive and really hard to scale. You’re not going to have the market opportunity to amortize that over a lot of boats to build a big profit potential for a technology company,” he explained. “However, if you can show that there’s a lot of other fishing vessels in the U.S. that have some similar sort of a need, then all of a sudden technology companies have a lot larger interest.” “We have fishing groups as members all over the country so we can start to identify patterns,” Habegger added. “Maybe folks who are using fixed gear pots in New England might have some similarities with the Dungeness crab fishery on the West Coast. And there may be a solution to address whale entanglements across both of these fisheries versus trying to do this piecemeal.” The short survey includes tech advancements in four areas: sustainability, such as bycatch reduction and gear selectivity; safety; productivity, such as robotics and hybrid engines; and data usages and platforms. SHA hopes to gather responses by the end of May. A priority list and a report will follow along with plans to bring fishermen, tech developers and fishery managers together this fall to move conversations forward. Find the Fisheries Technology Survey at www.seafoodharvesters.org/our-work/ Fishy appointee Another of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s fishery appointments has raised eyebrows among stakeholders. Melvin Smith, an Anchorage real estate executive formerly with the Aleut Corp., will take a lead seat at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, which regulates fishing permits and vessel licenses across Alaska. The job comes with a six-figure salary. The appointment was not announced nor advertised. Coast Alaska reported that Smith’s name surfaced when it was sent to the state Senate for consideration by lawmakers. Dunleavy “believes he’s the best candidate,” spokesman Jeff Turner told Coast Alaska. Fisherman and former lobbyist Bob Thorstensen added it’s customary for someone close or loyal to the governor to be tapped for commissioner jobs. “Whoever gets that job is usually a pretty good friend of the governor’s people because it’s a choice job,” he said. The CFEC’s next big task is to determine the right number of permits in various limited entry fisheries, which was originally based on historical participation and may not be the optimum number for a fishery or region. Community grants American Seafoods is calling for grant applicants from Kodiak Island, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, the Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. The majority of each grant award will range from $1,000 to $7,500 for projects addressing food security and community social needs. Recipients will be selected by an advisory board on April 28. The deadline to submit applications is April 12. Fill out an application here or contact Kim Lynch [email protected]; 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Rare optimism as halibut fishery kicks off

The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and increased catch limits combined with a cautiously optimistic outlook for the near future have fanned interest in buying shares of the popular fish. In January, the International Pacific Halibut Commission boosted total halibut removals for 2021 by 6.5 percent to 39 million pounds for all users and as bycatch in fisheries of the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. That is higher than the total take for the past three years. For commercial fishermen, the halibut catch limit of 25.7 million pounds is an increase of 2.6 million pounds over 2020. Alaska gets the largest chunk at 19.6 million pounds, and all regions except for the Bering Sea will see increased catches. “People are thrilled to see that, hopefully, the tide has turned after catch limits for most areas have been declining for about the past 15 years. And they are happy to know they’re going to see some more pounds on their permits this year,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “By all accounts the market looks like it is warming up,” agreed Lisa Gulliford at Permit Master in Tacoma, Wash. “Interest and flexibility from both buyers and sellers is always good news and I am hopeful this trend will continue through the year.” The optimism over the apparent better health of the halibut stock is reflected in the demand for purchasing shares of the fish that is pushing up prices, Bowen added. It’s nowhere near the levels in 2017 when quota share prices in the Central Gulf of Alaska, for example, were at $65 or more per pound and now are closer to $45. Quota shares at Southeast that topped $70 are listed in the $45 to high $50 range per pound. The increase in halibut catches is one part of the equation; the other is what the fish will bring at the docks. “We were seeing some decline in values even before the pandemic hit, with increased imports from the east coast of Canada and halibut coming in from Russia and even farmed halibut showing up in Costco from Norway,” Bowen said. “So there’s more competition in the market place. And then the pandemic didn’t help with all the restaurants closed and the cruise ships tied up. Even with all that, we still saw pretty decent prices last year. In Homer, we probably averaged $4.50 a pound for the whole season. Considering the pandemic and the hit to the economy, that was probably a pretty good price. And we’re hoping to see a good price again this year.” Federal data show the annual average ex-vessel (dock) price for halibut has been decreasing since 2016. The price to Alaska fishermen in 2020 averaged $4 per pound and the value of the fishery totaled just less than $62 million. That compared to an average dock price of $5.30 per pound in 2019 and a fishery value of more than $87 million. Meanwhile, another good sign, Bowen added, is that boat sales are “brisk.” “I don’t know whether you could find a stronger vote of confidence in investing into these fisheries by buying a boat or buying quota,” he said. “So yeah, there’s definitely some optimism in the fishery in spite of this pandemic that’s going on in the background. It’s very encouraging.” The Pacific halibut fishery this year also was extended by one month to Dec. 7. The human side of halibut economics Who are the users of Pacific halibut and how do they use it? Answers to that question will come from responses to a stakeholder survey that aims to provide stakeholders with an assessment of the economic impact of the Pacific halibut resource in Canada and the U.S. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is the first regional group in the world to conduct such a study, claiming that understanding the human dimension is part of its mandate for optimum management of the resource. The survey assesses halibut users in commercial, sport charter, subsistence and processor sectors. It measures economic impacts from hook to dinner plate, employment and incomes, household prosperity and contributions to regional and national economies, known more broadly as multiplier effects. “So per dollar of landed fish, how much economic activity is generated and how much of this translates to wages and to the national GDP. (GDP is Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the U.S. economy and its growth.) That encompasses effects on wages, but also effects on profits by the businesses that are supported by the commercial or recreational fisheries,” said Barbara Hutniczak, IPHC lead economist for the study. The survey also includes regional spillovers to other areas. “For example, a vessel that is fishing in Alaska and benefiting from the Alaska-based halibut resource might in the wintertime be serviced in Washington state. So in this case, the economic effects will also be in Washington state because the marina where this vessel is serviced will have additional economic activities,” she explained. The confidential survey includes four main sections on vessel activities, revenue and quota use, labor information and vessel operating expenses. Hutniczak said responses are accepted on a rolling basis and the information will be updated continuously. “I would like to encourage stakeholders to provide the information that will benefit all the sectors and show the potential of each sector in terms of supporting the local communities and economies and various other aspects that can be highlighted through your responses,” she said. Questions? Contact [email protected] or 206-552-7693. Fishing mentors wanted The Young Fishermen’s Fellowship Program is calling for fishing groups or businesses to partner with young Alaska fishermen to help them hone skills in management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and more. It’s the fifth year for the Fellowship, which is an offshoot of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “The program is really energized to help young fisherman bridge the gap between the water and the waterfront and to help diversify their experiences within the fishing industry,” said AMCC Working Waterfront director Jamie O’Connor. “It has included everything from direct marketing to the history of fisheries to policy and whatever creative, meaningful project our host organizations can dream up. It’s a really great way for young fishermen to utilize other skills that they may have onshore.” The program has so far placed 15 fishermen under 40 in a wide range of mentorships, many of which have led to diverse careers. They are paid a stipend that usually adds up to $16 to $26 per hour, depending on experience. “Our fishing fellows have gone on to careers as fishery staffers in Congress, (Advisory Panel) members to the council, one used her time with the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association to segue into work as a fleet manager in Sitka for one of the seafood companies out there,” O’Connor said. She added that along with being a Bristol Bay fisherman, her Fellowship experience with the North Pacific Fisheries Association in Homer led into her current job at AMCC. “I think one of the main benefits I’ve seen to both Fellows and the host organizations is building those relationships within the broader fisheries community and the industries that support them,” O’Connor added. “It expands our fisheries network in a really beautiful way.” Interested mentors can apply through March 31 and a call for fishing fellows will follow. Mentors and Fellows will then be matched up and work out flexible schedules lasting two to five months. “If you have a project that you think could be energized by the efforts of a young fisherman, reach out to me and I can help you put a proposal together,” she said. Organizations and businesses can apply at www.akyoungfisherman.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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