Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Meeting season nears amid COVID-19 complications

Many Alaska fishermen are likely to be involved in regulatory meetings next spring instead of being out on the water. And Alaska legislators will be distracted by hearings for hundreds of unconfirmed appointments as they tackle contentious budgets and other pressing issues. New dates have been set for state Board of Fisheries meetings that were bumped from later this year due to COVID-19 concerns. During the same time, along with four unconfirmed seats on the fish board, the Alaska legislature also will be tasked with considering nominees for 137 state boards and commissions named by Gov. Mike Dunleavy during the 2020 session. State lawmakers were unable to do the usual in-depth vetting of appointees when the virus forced them to adjourn early. The upcoming round of board meetings focuses on management of subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries at Prince William Sound, Southeast and Yakutat, as well as statewide shellfish issues and hatcheries. The meeting dates of March 4, 2021, for the hatchery committee and March 5-10 for shellfish issues remain the same as originally scheduled. The Prince William Sound meetings, set to be held in Cordova, are now set to occur from March 30-April 5; for Southeast and Yakutat, the dates are April 17-29 with the meetings scheduled to be in Ketchikan. The plan is to hold in person meetings while monitoring COVID-19 threats that could lead to extra costs and complications, said Glenn Haight, executive director for the boards of both fisheries and game. The BOF will address 275 regulatory proposals in its upcoming meeting cycle. “We’re just going to see what happens with this year and hopefully things will settle down enough so we can get these proposals done,” he added. “Probably the biggest unknown is what happens if we’re in the meetings and participants get sick, certainly the ones that we are accountable for such as staff, board members and committee members,” Haight said. “That could lead to higher costs if a number of people are forced to quarantine in a hotel out of their own community. And it’s possible that if an outbreak occurs, the meeting is over. There are certain people we can’t conduct the meeting without and it could be that it’s all lost.” While nothing can replace meeting face to face, Haight said the response to online meetings via Zoom has been positive. One plus is that it is easy to bring in experts from far away to participate. “It was kind of nice during the recent work session to see how easy it was to bring in subject matter experts out of nowhere,” he explained. “If you’re meeting in Anchorage, for instance, you’re not going to be able to bring in our regional subsistence expert from Fairbanks. But all of a sudden, when we got to that point in the meeting, there she was available for questions. So it has some features that you can do a bit more with sometimes.” Meanwhile, four of the seven fish board seats are being held by voting members not yet approved by the Alaska Legislature, along with the hundreds of others. That means the appointment procedure goes back to square one, according to Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “Confirmations have to take place before we reconvene in mid-January. And if that doesn’t happen, then all these people have to be nominated again by the Dunleavy administration in the upcoming session,” Stutes said. But there appear to be some questions surrounding the process. “Our (natural resources) attorney general, Aaron Peterson, said they don’t have a solid answer and he was going to get back to the board on that,” said Glenn Haight. “It’s top of mind; it’s not just the Board of Fisheries, it’s all of the boards and commissions appointments that have been made. It’s a lot of individuals. So it’s very concerning for the state and they are looking into it.” Going for gold! Fishermen and state managers are testing the waters for a golden king crab fishery at Prince William Sound. Through the end of November, fishermen will drop pots for 15,000 pounds of goldens in a fishery that has been closed since 1989. Golden king crab are some of the deepest dwellers, living at depths of 900 meters, or nearly 3,000 feet. The stock was last surveyed in 2006, but stakeholders say they are seeing signs of increased abundance. “We believe that there is some golden king crab out there and our stakeholders proposed a few things at the last Board of Fish meeting,” said Wyatt Rhea-Fournier, Alaska Department of Fish and Game research project leader for groundfish and shellfish at lower Cook Inlet, the North Gulf Coast district, and Prince William Sound. “And, it was agreed that for this year we would go forward with a test fishery to try to gain more information. Once that is complete, the department will analyze the data and we will be gaining a lot of information within a low risk scenario.” At a time of tight budgets, a test fishery allows the crab that’s caught to be sold to a local processor to fund the research project. In this case, a harvest limited to 15,000 pounds will go to 60 Degrees North in Cordova, which also is subcontracting with boats to handle the harvest. The results of the test fishery will be presented to the Board of Fisheries at its statewide shellfish meeting in March. “And we just encourage everyone to be patient as we analyze this king crab data, and know that we’re always looking for an opportunity to provide a sustainable fishery,” Rhea-Fournier said. Golden king crab would be the second emerging crab fishery for Prince William Sound, following Tanner crab openers in March for three years running where catches have topped 100,000 pounds. The next test fishery for Prince William Sound could be sea cucumbers. Sitkan salute Fisherman, wife and mother, Yale graduate, national policy maker, former international commissioner and funding whiz Linda Behnken of Sitka has received a $250,000 cash award from the Heinz Family Foundation for her work promoting sustainable fishing practices and futures for Alaska harvesters and coastal communities. Behnken began fishing in Alaska in1982 to earn money for college. After earning a master’s degree at Yale, she returned to skipper her own boat. Not long after, she took the helm as executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, or ALFA, and has made favorable waves in Alaska and nationally ever since. Under her leadership, ALFA was successful in securing a ban on trawling in waters off Southeast Alaska, in an area covering more than 100,000 square miles. ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network forged ongoing partnerships between small boat fishermen and scientists to find ways to reduce whale interactions with fishing gear, map the ocean floor, avoid bycatch, and test electronic monitoring procedures. To build recruitment for the profession, the ALFA team created a Young Fishermen’s Initiative and launched a crew apprentice training program. Behnken also co-founded the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust that helps young fishermen overcome the high costs of entry through a Local Fish Fund where repayments are based on the price of their catches. ALFA was the first in Alaska to create a community-supported fishery called Alaskans Own, a subscription-based program in which customers pre-order a suite of local catches. Most recently, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and low salmon returns around the state, Alaskans Own helped coordinate donations and delivery of thousands of pounds of fish to families and elders throughout Southeast and at Chignik. At the national level, because there are no federal programs dedicated to training the next generation of fishermen (unlike farmers and ranchers), ALFA joined forces with the Fishing Communities Coalition to push for the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, which (if passed) would provide funding, training and education. Behnken also has served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and as a U.S. commissioner on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “Linda’s success in achieving collaboration between scientists, industry, and the fishermen who work the ocean for their livelihood is a model for effective environmental change,” said Teresa Heinz, chair of the Heinz Family Foundation. “Her efforts to drive policy and practices that protect the stability of Alaska’s coastal fishing communities and the ocean ecosystem on which they depend not only give us hope, they demonstrate what is possible when seemingly competing interests work together.” Linda Behnken fishes commercially with her husband and two sons. Selling survey More Alaska fishermen are selling their catches directly and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute hopes to give them a hand. ASMI is encouraging direct marketers to take a short survey to get a better understanding of their needs and help guide an effective strategy. Take the survey by Nov. 1 for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. Take the survey here or at www.alaskaseafood.org. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Innovation helps avoid ‘getting whaled’

Lightweight collapsible pots prevent whales from pirating pricey black cod from longline hooks and give a break to small boats. “Getting whaled” is so pervasive fishery managers allowed black cod (sablefish) fishermen to switch from baited lines to rigid pots in the Bering Sea in 2008 and in the Gulf of Alaska starting in 2017. (Interestingly, killer whales rob the hooks in the Bering Sea, while sperm whales are the culprits in the Gulf.) “The whale predation has just been so horrible,” said Frank Miles of Kodiak, owner of 58-foot and 78-foot fishing boats. “The last couple years I tried to do it with hooks, and it just got to the point to where we left tens of thousands of pounds of black cod unharvested because we were going backwards feeding the whales. You can spread your strings 10 miles apart, and you might get one or two skates up and they find you. And then they pretty much strip you blind.” Analyses from federal surveys in 2013 showed that when killer whales were present during annual sablefish stock surveys, the whales removed 54 percent to 72 percent from the hooks. But switching from lines to pots is no easy deal. Miles said costs can run as high as a quarter-million dollars to buy rigid pots and add hydraulics and all the peripherals needed to run the heavy gear. The traditional pots also are too big and heavy for smaller boats, and they don’t have the power to pull it off the bottom. Leave it to fishermen’s ingenuity to solve the problem in the form of collapsible mesh pots with an added whale resistant twist. “The pots that I’m producing now are a hot dip galvanized, high carbon steel wire that is formed into a helical spring with a closed end at both ends. They also use knotless PE webbing, and the idea there is to have a small mesh size,” said Alexander Stubbs of Stubbs Marine in San Francisco. “It fishes better and it acoustically masks the fish in the pot. There’s a density difference between the PE mesh and water, and the idea is that it will obscure the acoustic echo return of fish trapped in the pot to try and prevent whales from messing with this gear.” Stubbs also is a small boat fisherman and research biologist and said he first noticed the pot design while doing field work in Asia where small collapsible spring traps are commonly used to catch specimens. “And I thought if we just size this up a lot, and make it way stronger, there might be a chance to use it in a black cod fishery,” he said. The pots cost about $150 each, roughly half the price of rigid pots. Stubbs developed the concept and fished the gear over three years and last fall sent the first batch of pots to Alaska. Frank Miles was one of the first to try them out. “The black cod pot limit is 300 and guys like to be able to bring their full complement and the big boats can do it. But you talk to the crew members that are working these heavy pots, or you’ve got two guys trying to stack pots 20 high in a rolling pitching sea, it can be an issue,” Miles said. “These coil pots weigh anywhere from seven to 10 pounds and they spring out 36 inches in height by five feet in length. So you’re getting a lot of cubes that are actually fishing. And in the pot world, cubes mean everything; the bigger the pot, the more fish it attracts. The results have been incredible.” Over the past year, Stubbs has sent several thousand pots to fishing operations throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea in collaboration with Pete Sawle at Fish Tech Inc. “I hear many positive reports from fishermen that seem to be having success using them. Even some of the schooner fleet has started fishing with them,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Until these pots came along, the small boats didn’t really have many options. Many fishermen that had purchased sablefish quota saw their investments lose substantial value as quota prices declined with the increased difficulty in harvesting the resource. “We’ve been feeding the whales for a long time and these pots seem to be an effective tool against them.” The ultimate goal of the new gear, Stubbs said, is to make fishermen’s businesses safer and more profitable. “If somebody else comes up with a better design for a collapsible pot, and it helps the fishery, I’ll be stoked on that as well,” he said. “I really think that overall, there is clearly a need for thinking outside the box about different ways to make space saving fish traps. And my hope is that this can be the first in a series of designs from me or other people.” Fish craze continues One unexpected constant amid the COVID-19 uncertainties is that people continue to buy and cook more seafood. Since March, when the pandemic led to lockdowns in the U.S. and elsewhere, consumer buying habits have busted several long held beliefs, including that Americans are reluctant to cook seafood at home. A poll of major retailers by the Global Aquaculture Alliance is consistent with other surveys that show evidence of the seafood-at-home craze is “overwhelming.” One U.S. supermarket chain reported a 40 percent increase in salmon and shrimp demand and a doubling in snow crab sales. Seafood was the most susceptible protein to price collapse given its dependence on foodservice sales. Early on, prices and sales for salmon and shrimp, for example, fell to the lowest value in years. Urner Barry, the nation’s oldest commodity market tracker since 1858, said the drastic price declines may have been a big reason behind the remarkable increase in retail seafood sales. Home deliveries also have surged. A silver lining is that people have found out that seafood is one of the easiest proteins to cook, said major buyers for Publix and Giant Eagle. And given the global health crisis, consumers also have switched for health reasons, such as boosting their immune system by eating a protein that is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Polls also said that “food-at-home fatigue” is real and retailers are preparing marketing campaigns to keep the boom alive. A lot depends on the status of restaurants. As many as 100,000 outlets have closed long-term or for good, according to the National Restaurant Association, and the change of seasons will curtail less restrictive outdoor dining options. The GAA poll said foodservice and retailers agree on one thing: the seafood marketplace has changed forever and companies that do the best will be those that embrace new consumer trends. Salmon sales watch The U.S. exported 9.2 million pounds of frozen H&G (headed and gutted) chum salmon worth $11 million in August, down 48 percent and 50 percent, respectively, year over year. Undercurrent News reports that the average price fell by 4 percent to $5.72 per pound from a year ago and by 10 percent from the previous month. Based on U.S. trade data, exports of U.S. frozen H&G sockeye salmon totaled nearly 26.6 million pounds worth $97.2 million in August, down 19 percent in volume and 9 percent in value from the same time last year. The average price hit its highest level since the beginning of the year at $8.04 per kilogram, or $17.68 per pound. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Loan program established for entry-level fishermen

More young Alaskans are officially among the next generation of professional fishermen and ocean stewards to hail from Cordova, Haines, Homer, Ketchikan and Sitka. The futures of eight fishermen were cemented thanks to $1.5 million in loans from a Local Fish Fund, or LFF, launched in 2019 that enabled them to buy into halibut and sablefish fisheries that normally would be out of reach. Buying quota shares of halibut, for example, can cost from $40 to $55 per pound. “I’m super excited that we were able to move the $1.5 million that was provided to us to invest in new entrants. Some are deckhands and some are vessel owners. I’m just really pleased at how this has gone for this first tranche of funding,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Sitka-based Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust that worked for a decade in partnership with conservation and finance experts to craft the fund. “The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” Behnken added. “As a result, the number of young rural residents entering the fisheries has dropped significantly over the past 15 years. Local Fish Fund lowers both the risk and the initial cost new entrants face.” The fishermen will repay the loans based on the prices they get for their catch. “It’s just a really different loan instrument,” Behnken said. The LFF works on a 10 percent down payment and the borrower’s risk is shielded to that amount. The loan is secured by the quota shares of the fish they are purchasing. Payments are based on what the borrower makes from fishing and fluctuate as the price of fish or the quota goes up or down. Behnken said the structure allows borrowers to build equity and a credit history over a five- or six-year period that should enable them to qualify for refinancing with a traditional lender. The LFF also incentivizes ocean stewardship by giving fishermen a small break on their loan interest by participating in local projects such as electronic monitoring, mapping the ocean floor, logging bycatch to avoid hotspots or networking to keep whales away from fishing gear. “There are many opportunities for fishermen and the scientific community to team up to get a better understanding of our fisheries and the ocean environment. Some of the partners we’re working with are coming specifically from that impact investment sector that is trying to obtain conservation goals through innovative lending,” said Dustin Solberg of Cordova, a spokesman for the Nature Conservancy, which works with fishing communities around the world to develop economic incentives for good stewardship. The Nature Conservancy, Rasmuson Foundation and Catch Together capitalized the loan fund. Craft3, a nonprofit based in Oregon and Washington, is underwriting, closing and servicing the LFF loans. Fund managers now will take about a year to assess the LFF program and determine the timing and sizing of a future round of lending. They already have a list of interested applicants, Behnken said, and the goal is to expand LFFs to help safeguard Alaska’s fisheries for future generations. Bering Sea gets three Bering Sea crabbers will drop pots for king crab, snow crab and bairdi Tanners when the fisheries get underway on Oct. 15. As expected, the catch was reduced for red king crab taken in the eastern Bering Sea waters of Bristol Bay; just 2.6 million pounds is a 30 percent drop from the 3.8 million pounds taken last season. “We’ve heard from scientists in the past that there has not been good recruitment into that fishery for over a decade,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents harvesters. For the first time since 2018 there will be a bairdi Tanner crab opener with a catch of 2.3 million pounds. And as expected, the catch for snow crab was increased, but not by as much as crabbers had hoped. Managers set the snow crab catch at 45 million pounds, a 32 percent increase from last season’s take of 34 million pounds. Signs point to a strong market for snow crab, predicts market expert John Sackton, founder of SeafoodNews.com. The crab has been one of the top selling seafood items all year and Sackton said “snow crab is currently oversold, and back up to record price levels.” He credits the Bering Sea crab’s popularity to several things; above all, 16 years of non-stop exposure from the wildly popular “Deadliest Catch” television show. “In this case, crab has benefitted from hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of television exposure consistently, year after year. It is my view that this exposure has increased demand for snow crab,” Sackton wrote in a market analysis. The fact that snow crab is precooked and ready to eat is a big plus, and a waning Japanese market has provided more snow crab to U.S. buyers. The market also is expanding to China and more European countries. Sackton said snow crab from eastern Canada, the world’s largest producer, already is oversold and orders are now being filled with crab from Russia. “There is little snow crab available and buyers are scrambling to cover their sales,” he said, adding that means customers will now have the option to buy more snow crab from Alaska until Canada’s fishery reopens in April. No urchin searchin’ Alaska has urchin fisheries each October in Southeast and Kodiak, but they attract almost no interest from divers. A harvest of just less than 3 million pounds of red urchins is allowed at Southeast this year, but that may not be a true representation of the stock. “That’s a little bit of a ghost guideline average level, because there aren’t that many sea urchins still here,” said Phil Doherty, co-director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association in Ketchikan. Since the 1980s and ‘90s, Doherty said the bulk of the sea urchin beds have been wiped out by sea otters. “That’s the No. 1 factor in the lack of production in Southeast Alaska, and there’s nothing that’s going to happen here in the foreseeable future that’s going to change that,” he said. A second reason for the disinterest is the difficulty getting the delicate uni from the softball-sized urchins to Japanese markets in top condition. Uni, or roe from sea urchins, is a popular delicacy with many sushi lovers. “The Japanese market is very particular on how seafood looks and uni is one of them. It’s very difficult to crack open the urchins and get the roe out and pack it and have it look good, and then put it in special containers and get it onto the airlines and get it over to Japan, which is the main market,” he explained. The most recent Southeast harvest of about 700,000 pounds of urchins in 2015 was taken by a handful of divers who got 49 cents per pound. Green urchins that are found around Kodiak Island are preferred over the reds. But a lack of markets also has stalled fishing interest there and no harvest has occurred since 2001. “It’s not that the harvest stopped because we had concerns about the stock. It was largely market driven. I think the major barriers for even a small scale fishery is finding a market and getting them there in good condition,” said Nat Nichols, groundfish and shellfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. In the 1980s, Nichols said landings of the hockey puck-sized green urchins reached about 80,000 pounds. Now the harvest limit is 65,000 pounds, but no divers have signed up for the fishery. Urchin uni is more familiar to U.S. buyers now than in the past, Nichols said, and perhaps there might be more local interest. “If you could develop a smaller local market, it would alleviate the issue of getting bigger loads of product in good condition. That might spur more participation,” he said, adding that he is interested in working with anyone who wants to revive Kodiak’s urchin fishery. Pollock push No fishing sector is more driven to build demand for their products than Alaska’s pollock industry. The trade group Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP, announced last week that nearly $750,000 will fund seven familiar food purveyors who are launching new products. Gorton’s Seafood received funding to launch a campaign called, “Move Over Meat, it’s Seafood Time” that will feature Alaska pollock recipes and highlight the health benefits of eating more seafood. High Liner Foods will introduce its new Alaska Wild Pollock Fish Wings as part of its “Go Wild” line in convenience stores and quick serve restaurants. 7-Eleven was awarded funding for a follow-up 2021 promotion to its popular wild Alaska pollock fish sandwich that debuted during Lent this year. Pescanova USA will use funds to introduce its new chilled Fettuccine Protein Pasta made from Alaska pollock that will be marketed as “all good, no guilt” pasta. Restaurant Depot will begin carrying a variety of Alaska pollock products in its club stores, and a partnership with Louis Kemp and celebrity chef Nancy Fuller will showcase wild Alaska pollock snacks during the 2021 Super Bowl. The ongoing funding is part of GAPP’s partnership programs in North America and Europe to provide support for companies who want to bring new products to market or introduce Alaska pollock where the fish has not had visibility. GAPP has committed nearly $3 million toward this initiative for 2019-2020. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Short salmon supplies send prices upward

Now that the 2020 pack of Alaska salmon has been caught and put up, stakeholders will get a better picture of how global prices may rise or fall. Nearly 75 percent of the value of Alaska’s salmon exports is driven by sales between July and October. And right now, lower supplies of wild Pacific salmon by the major producers are pushing up prices as the bulk of those sales are made. For sockeye salmon, global supplier and market tracker Tradex reports that frozen fillets are in high demand and supplies are hard to source for all sizes. With a catch this year topping 45 million, Alaska is the leading producer of that popular commodity. “Luckily, sockeye harvests were once again abundant in Bristol Bay as fishermen caught nearly 200 million pounds. Although that’s a bigger than average harvest for Bristol Bay, it’s still down 9 percent from last year. With lower sockeye harvests in Russia and closures in Canada, we estimate the global sockeye harvest declined by 26 percent in 2020,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association speaking on the Tradex Three-Minute Market Report. Tradex reports that sockeye prices are “significantly higher than last year” and suggests that suppliers are stockpiling inventories in their freezers. “Our recommendation for sockeye buyers is similar to a few weeks ago, which is to secure your supply now. Sockeye prices are anticipated to make a good bull-run before moving into a bear-type market,” said correspondent Tasha Cadence. Tradex predicts the same for wild chum salmon due to low catches from all producers. “In speaking to our VP of Asia Operations, he advised they are anticipating that new season chum won’t be available until the end of September and that salmon will certainly be very short this year,” Cadence added. “Both from Russia and Alaska, and the estimated raw materials price will go up to $4,300 per metric ton, which translates to about $1.95 to $2 per pound.” And the same holds true for pink salmon, where big shortfalls from Russia are biting into the global supply. Prices for pink salmon that are processed in China and distributed back to the U.S. and other countries have increased from $2,600 to $3,400 per metric ton, or from $1.20 to $1.55 per pound. “Going back a few weeks it was reported that Russian boats did not even want to make commitments at the higher prices as they wanted pricing at even higher levels,” Cadence said. A weakening dollar also means foreign customers can buy more U.S. salmon for less. How the initial uptick in salmon commodity markets might play out in fishermen’s paychecks remains to be seen. Alaska processors typically post a base price as a placeholder when the salmon season gets underway. Then, bonuses for fish that is chilled, bled or delivered are often sent to fishermen in the fall, and any profit sharing checks usually arrive the following spring. “Retro-payments more than anything are a payment to appease the fleet and keep them from jumping to another processor,” said a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman. “There are many instances where a processor has paid their ‘retro’ or adjustment in the spring, only to have to make another payment in early June to match competitors. Price adjustments are a dark art and there is no set formula as it relates to the sale of the pack.” Fish on! Salmon numbers continue to trickle in but Alaska’s total catch won’t add up to much more than 114 million fish, about 85 percent of what state managers predicted for the 2020 season. Of that, more than 45 million are sockeyes and 58 million are pinks. Landings of just more than 2 million cohos are the lowest since the mid-1970s and a chum salmon harvest of just less than 8 million is the weakest since 1979. Chinook volumes also are well below historical levels. The preliminary value of Bristol Bay’s 40.7 million salmon catch, nearly all sockeyes, is $140.7 million, ranking ninth in the last 20 years. That doesn’t include any postseason price bonuses. As always, there is a lot of fishing action going on after salmon. At Southeast Alaska, beam trawlers are back on the water targeting 650,000 pounds of pink and sidestripe shrimp in a third opener. Southeast’s Dungeness season reopened on Oct. 1 and a few million pounds are likely to come out of that fishery. There will again be no opener for red or blue king crab due to low abundances. On Oct. 5, a hundred or more divers also could be heading down for over 1.7 million pounds of red sea cucumbers. A catch of just less than 3 million pounds of sea urchins also is up for grabs, but there may be a lack of buyers. Southeast divers also are targeting giant geoduck clams. At Prince William Sound, a 15,000-pound test fishery is underway for golden king crabs through October; likewise, a nearly 7 million-pound golden king crab fishery is ongoing along the Aleutian Islands. Kodiak crabbers have pulled up more than 2.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab so far with a few weeks left to go in the season. A sea cucumber fishery opened at Kodiak on Oct. 1 with a 130,000-pound limit. Halibut landings were approaching 13 million pounds, or 79 percent of the 16 million-pound catch limit. Homer, Kodiak and Seward are the top ports for landings. For sablefish (black cod), the catch was nearing 17 million pounds, or 52 percent of the nearly 32 million pound quota. Seward, Kodiak, Sitka and Dutch Harbor were getting the most deliveries. Both of those fisheries end in early November. The Bering Sea pollock fishery closes on Nov. 1. Alaska pollock is the nation’s top food fishery and the Bering Sea will produce more than 3 billion pounds again this year. And as always, fisheries for cod, flounders, rockfish and much more are ongoing in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Finally, the state Board of Fisheries has accepted 275 proposals to address at its as yet undetermined meetings on Prince William Sound and Southeast subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries and statewide shellfish. Meeting dates have been bumped from this winter to sometime next year due to COVID-19 constraints. The board will consider new meeting dates at an Oct. 15-16 virtual work session. Halibut survey success A “resounding success” is how scientists summed up this summer’s Pacific halibut survey despite it being shortened and scaled down a bit due to COVID-19 constraints. The so-called fishery-independent setline survey uses standardized methods to track population trends in the Pacific halibut stock, which ranges from the west coast and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. For two months this summer, 11 longline vessels (down from the usual 17) took halibut survey experts aboard to fish at 898 stations, down 30 percent from the planned 1,283. The foregone areas were waters off California, Oregon and Washington. Survey areas in the Bering Sea near the Pribilofs also were cut, along with stations at the Aleutian Islands near Unalaska and Adak. “We also thinned out a little bit in the Western Gulf of Alaska, and we also removed the stations off Vancouver Island,” said David Wilson, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission which oversees the stock for the U.S. and Canada. Still, Wilson said roughly 70 percent of the Pacific halibut biomass was sampled overall and 100 percent in the core areas of the central Gulf, Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia. “Normally we would have done a thinner sampling in those areas but to ensure that we had enough samples coming out we went for 100 percent in those areas,” he explained, calling it the “most data-rich setline-survey in the IPHC’s 97 year history.” The halibut that are caught during the survey are sold to cover the cost of the operation. Wilson said the poundage and prices will be revealed next month at the IPHC interim meeting. “The key thing is that we were able to meet both our scientific requirements and also maintain our economic goal of revenue neutrality,” he said. The Nov. 18-19 meetings, which will be held online, also will provide a first glimpse at how the halibut stocks are holding up. “The interim meeting is usually an information sharing meeting for stakeholders where we present the preliminary stock assessments and the outcomes of other research activity. We also put out some of the regulatory proposals we will be considering at the annual meeting,” Wilson said. Halibut catch limits and other regulations will be revealed in late January. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI survey sheds light on pandemic impacts

Some surprising results are revealed in the first of a series of briefing papers showing how Alaska’s seafood industry has been affected by the pandemic from dock to dinner plates. The updates, compiled by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, show that so far the amount of seafood that has been harvested is in line with previous years. “While 2020 harvests have been significantly lower in some salmon fisheries…the declines are due to weak runs rather than reduced effort or other forces that might have some connection with the pandemic,” according to the latest brief. “If we forgot about the pandemic and we just look at how much has been harvested, we’re similar to past years, so that’s a vote of confidence there,” said Garret Evridge, a McDowell fishery economist. Market disruptions and increased operating costs definitely put downward pressure on the value of all that seafood, with the price plummet at Bristol Bay being perhaps the most striking example. The preliminary value of the Bay’s fishery this year is $140.7 million (not including post-season bonuses), compared to the all-time high of $306.5 million in 2019. “And that certainly seems to be the trend across nearly all species. Generally, the pandemic has depressed prices across the board,” Evridge said. Also pushing down the value was a smaller processing work force. The extra efforts to manage and mitigate COVID-19-related risks “are believed to be the primary cause of a 13 percent overall decline reported for July 2020, a decline of 2,500 jobs from July 2019,” the September brief said. Chaotic market changes also forced workers to produce lower valued salmon products. Using Bristol Bay again as an example, where a compressed run plugged processing plants with millions of salmon, time and labor constraints meant that most of the fish had to be headed/gutted and frozen or canned instead of being trimmed up for pricier fresh or frozen fillets. “What that effectively does is it reduces the average value per pound of the Bristol Bay pack, which is particularly difficult in a year when operating costs have increased so much,” Evridge said. Those added costs aren’t going away anytime soon. There are no hard data yet but interviews with processors indicate at least $50 million has been spent so far by inshore and offshore sectors, said Dan Lesh, a McDowell senior analyst. “It’s definitely an estimate and it’s a number that’s likely to increase, not only through the end of 2020, but into 2021 and as long as this pandemic is in effect. We’re trying to communicate that the industry is sustaining real operating cost increases,” Lesh said. “The industry is taking on these costs out of pocket at the same time we are facing severe disruption in key markets and multiple pre-COVID cost burdens,” said Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods at a July 29 U.S. Senate committee hearing. “While a fraction of these costs may be reimbursed, we face significant uncertainty because there’s no specific congressional directive to support health and safety protocol costs for critical seafood supply chains,” Campbell said, adding that COVID-19 prevention measures have not been included so far in federal relief loans and funds. The McDowell team is waiting a few more months to get a better understanding of how COVID-19 has affected volumes and values of Alaska’s top export. August and September are the peak export months for Alaska seafood; for salmon, about 75 percent of annual exports (by value) occur between July and October. One advantage, Evridge said, is that global currency rates are playing in our favor. The dollar has trended weaker since February, making Alaska seafood more affordable to foreign buyers. “It’s important to focus on these bright spots,” Evridge said. “But there still is a big trade imbalance there with Russia, not to mention the ongoing trade war with China.” Overall, and despite all the difficulties, Evridge called 2020 “largely a success” for Alaska’s fisheries. “We’re still harvesting 5 to 6 billion pounds of seafood, the values are down, but we haven’t fallen off a cliff,” he said. “If you just think back to the early stages of the pandemic, we were talking about the possibility of Bristol Bay not even opening and some of the worst scenarios weren’t actually realized. So that’s a real positive.” Dinner plate update Seafood is benefitting from three major eating trends during the pandemic and they are expected to continue. “The first is the huge increase in home cooking as fewer people eat in restaurants,” said John Sackton, founder of SeafoodNews.com. “Second is the big increase in using frozen food, which is especially advantageous for the seafood industry, and third is the continued emphasis on health and diet during the pandemic.” He added that national trend tracker IRI has been reporting on changes in protein and frozen food at retail grocery, and that the trends for both frozen and fresh seafood continue to be more positive than any other category. “The continued strength of seafood consumption suggests that the strong performance of seafood at home will continue through the holidays and into the Lent season next year,” Sackton said. That’s backed up by surveys done by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which has been quickly adapting to the challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic. “In December of 2019 before COVID, 70 percent of consumers cooked three times a week at home, and since COVID, 66 percent said they now cook at home more frequently,” said Arianna Elnes, an ASMI spokesperson. She added that for the first half of 2020 restaurant sales were $65 billion lower, while U.S. grocery store sales for all products were up $43 billion from the same time last year. To accommodate the increased interest in frozen foods and food safety, Elnes said ASMI quickly revamped its flagship “Cook it Frozen” campaign. “This focused on filling the pantry and freezers and featured at a glance cooking tips and recipe ideas to help consumers build confidence in cooking wild Alaska seafood at home,” Elnes said. “The campaign was launched in March, right at the onset of COVID, and in May frozen seafood sales at retail were up 66 percent.” ASMI also has partnered with notable chefs and dieticians on Instagram for Seafood Sundays and other cooking specials. Its survey of more than 13,000 consumers also showed that consumers want to know where there food comes from and that fishermen and farmers hold the most trust at nearly 70 percent. “We’re really trying to focus on origin,” Elnes said. “When we talk about local eating, it doesn’t just mean in terms of distance, but local as in knowing where it comes from. So we’ve launched a Choose Alaska campaign and it pitches seafood as critical to the national and global food supply chain, and it lets people know that when they’re buying Alaska, they’re supporting people’s livelihoods.” Elnes added that direct marketing by more fishermen also is on an upward trajectory. ASMI has posted a short survey to identify ways to assist with direct sales. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Tariff relief payment applications now open through Dec. 14

Alaska fishermen can increase their federal trade relief funds by adding higher poundage prices for 15 fish and shellfish species. While it’s welcomed, the payouts are a band-aid on a bigger and ongoing problem. Through Dec. 14, fishermen can apply to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) if their bottom line has been hurt by the Trump Administration’s ongoing trade standoffs, primarily with China. “STRP is part of a federal relief strategy to support fishermen and other producers while the administration continues to work on free, fair and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets to help American producers compete globally,” said a USDA fact sheet. The damages to fishermen are calculated as the difference with a trade tariff and the baseline without it based on 2019 catches. For cod, for example, that adds up to an extra 14 cents per pound. So, a fisherman who had cod landings last year of 375,000 pounds would multiply that by 0.14 for a trade relief payment of $52,500. Salmon fishermen can add 16 cents per pound across the board. For Alaska crabbers, 47 cents per pound can be added to 2019 catches for Dungeness, king crab, snow crab and Tanners. Geoduck divers can add 76 cents to their total poundage. It’s 10 cents for sablefish, Atka mackerel and Pacific Ocean perch, 15 cents for flounders, sole and turbot, 4 cents for herring, and an extra one penny per pound for Alaska pollock. Eligible fisherman can fill out a “2020 Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) Application,” found at www.farmers.gov and at USDA Farm Service Agencies. In Alaska there are three locations at Homer, Kenai and the statewide office in Palmer. Fishermen who have applied reported it was a fairly easy process and took about an hour to complete, according to a statement by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. While the money is a welcomed inclusion for U.S. fishermen, the relief payments do little to advance the administration’s “free, fair and reciprocal trade deals.” Since 2018, for example, the U.S. has paid a 38 percent tax on average for seafood products going to China, previously Alaska’s biggest buyer. According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska seafood products were gaining market share prior to the tariffs, with exports to China reaching their highest level in 2017 at $988 million. From 2017 to 2018 the value of Alaska seafood exports to China dropped by $204 million, the largest year-on-year drop on record. By 2019, Alaska seafood exports to China were at their lowest level since 2010, while China saw a 91 percent increase in global seafood imports during the same time period. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to purchase increasing amounts of seafood from Russia while that country has not reciprocated since 2014 as retaliation against the U.S. and other countries for objecting to its invasion of Ukraine. Federal trade data show that through July of this year, the U.S. has purchased more than 46.3 million pounds of seafood from Russia valued at nearly $440 million, almost duty free. That’s an increase of 42.6 million pounds valued at nearly $382 million during the same time in 2019. Most of the Russian products are red king crab, snow crab, cod and sockeye salmon which are lower priced and compete directly with Alaska seafood on supermarket shelves. Another unfair deal that needs fixing is the Russian-caught/Chinese processed partnership that is growing fast. Last year, it totaled 2 million pounds in the U.S. at a cost of nearly $7 million, said economist Garrett Evridge at the McDowell Group. Most of the halibut comes in through Vancouver, British Columbia to sidestep the tariff between the U.S. and China. “It’s an amount of volume that is trending higher, and for a relatively low volume fishery and markets like the halibut market in the US, 2 million pounds is pretty material,” Evridge said. “So that’s another thing that we struggle with as we look at Alaska produced Pacific halibut. It’s just another factor that is making that competition pretty difficult.” Fish board backup The COVID-19 virus has forced the delay of fisheries meetings planned for this winter in Cordova and Ketchikan until sometime next spring. Six of the seven Board of Fisheries members voted for the delay during a special teleconference on Sept. 16 and agreed to set a schedule at a mid-October work session. New appointee McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks was missing from the teleconference. The BOF regulates the management of Alaska’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries in waters out to three miles and focuses on specific regions in three-year cycles. The heavily attended meetings, which can last a few days or weeks, were scheduled in December for Prince William Sound fisheries and January at Ketchikan for the Southeast region. Meetings on hatcheries and statewide shellfish also were scheduled in February and March. A BOF survey this summer drew 234 responses and showed that only about 20 percent favored in-person meetings; many opted for a delay, and a majority suggested trying to do at least some of the meetings virtually. At the Oct. 15-16 online work session the board will discuss holding the PWS and Southeast meetings in March, April or May of 2021, depending on the status of the pandemic, and whether or not to consider some management proposals out of cycle. Also on the agenda is the status of board nominees who have not been confirmed. Chew on this! Jerky made from Alaska pollock attracted the attention of big backers beginning at a buffet table at Fish 2.0, an annual global gathering of innovators and investors hosted by Stanford University to grow the sustainable seafood sector. “It was literally the first major set of about 200 samples that we’d ever made of the product. And the samples disappeared in a matter of minutes. It was a pretty amazing moment,” said Nick Mendoza, co-founder and CEO of Neptune, a former marine scientist turned jerky maker near Seattle. “There were oysters on the half shell and platters of cheese and all this delicious food and the jerky was gone before anything else was really touched. That was kind of the beginning of everything and put some wind in our sails to keep going forward.” The small company started out in 2018 with west coast rockfish and has since spawned a partnership with American Seafoods Company and industry trade powerhouse, Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP. “What really sold us on the story of wild Alaska Pollock is what an amazing, regenerative and abundant food source it is that operates sustainably at a large scale,” Mendoza said. “American Seafoods and GAPP teams brought the data to the table in approaching us about it and I was definitely on board, both because it’s a delicious, high quality product and it’s also a great story that I think resonates with people.” “The most important element in any product launch is to meet consumers where they are,” said Craig Morris, CEO for GAPP. “Neptune’s wild Alaska pollock jerky does just that in two ways: first, by tapping into the incredibly popular high-protein snacking category and second, by delivering the delicious product using e-commerce, thereby quite literally meeting buyers where they are: online.” Mendoza added that Neptune wants to become the “flagship brand for sustainable seafood snacks.” “I think it’s inspiring, both as a founder in this space, but also as someone who cares about the future of seafood in our oceans,” he said. “Not only is seafood consumption in general on the rise, but this awareness is a sort of renaissance in making sure that it is coming from a good source, and understanding what your purchases are actually supporting when you’re buying fish.” The Neptune jerky comes in four flavors and has great reviews on Amazon. Most say it’s not fishy and the texture is similar to beef products. It’s also available online and at 70 retail outlets. Use the code NEPTUNEJERKY20 for a 20 percent discount. Fish Debate is on! The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce the confirmation of the Alaska US Senator candidate debate between Senator Dan Sullivan and Dr. Al Gross, it said in a Friday release. The fisheries themed debate will occur on Oct. 10 at 5:00 p.m. In an atypical manner, the debate will take place over Zoom and be live streamed to www.KodiakChamber.com, www.ComFishAK.com, and both the Kodiak Chamber and ComFish Alaska Facebook and YouTube channels, as well as statewide public radio stations. The moderator will be Rhonda McBride. Send topics or questions to [email protected] ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: After surveys canceled by COVID-19, crabbers await catch limits

Bering Sea crabbers will soon know how much they can pull up in their pots for the upcoming season that opens Oct. 15. This week the Crab Plan Team, advisers to state and federal fishery managers who jointly manage the fisheries, will review stock assessments and other science used to set the catches for Bristol Bay red king crab, Tanners and snow crab. Normally, the biggest driver would be data from the annual summer trawl surveys that have tracked the stocks for decades. But this year, the surveys were called off due to the COVID-19 virus and that has crabbers worried. “There are certainly some added uncertainties,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents harvesters. Goen said the fleet is anticipating an opener for red king crab, likely less than the 3.8 million pounds taken last season. “Our preliminary indication is that there is possibly going to be a small red king crab fishery. However, we’ve heard from scientists in the past that there has not been good recruitment into that fishery for over a decade,” Goen said. On the brighter side, the snow crab stock has been on a steady upward tick. “We’ve been seeing a lot of recruitment of young crab into this fishery, so even without a survey I think the outlook is good. It’s hard to say, though, given the lack of a survey whether the TAC (total allowable catch) would end up being about the same as last year, which was 34 million pounds, or if it would go up or down,” she added. Bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s larger cousin, also could be in play after a two-year closure. That fishery produced 2.4 million pounds in 2018, and nearly 20 million pounds prior to that. The volatility of the crab stocks and the missing updates from the canceled surveys has the fleet fearing it will result in extra, unnecessary fishing restrictions. “We’re concerned that without a survey, managers will be adding extra buffers for uncertainty which would further reduce our TAC,” Goen said. “We’re already a heavily buffered fishery because of the variability in our stocks. We don’t even come close to approaching our existing buffers, so we don’t think more need to be added.” The total 2019-20 Bering Sea crab catch was 44.4 million pounds for a value of $199.2 million, according to NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Goen had high praise for the collaborative research being done by the industry and scientists to improve understanding and management of the crab stocks through the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation. The Crab Plan Team meetings ran from Sept. 14-17. The agenda and documents are on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council website. More crab One of Alaska’s most stable fisheries, golden king crab from the Aleutian Islands, has been underway since August and will produce more than 6 million pounds. In waters closer to home, Dungeness crab fisheries at Southeast and Kodiak are producing some of the best catches in decades. At the Panhandle, a fleet of 192 permit holders hauled up nearly 6 million pounds of Dungies during a summer fishery that ran from June through Aug. 15 and will reopen on October 1. Managers base the seasonal catch on the first week’s performance, which produced a quick 1.4 million pounds, compared to 772,000 in the first week last summer. “We did pretty good right off the bat,” said Adam Messmer, regional shellfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. At an average price to fishermen of $1.67 per pound (down from $3.01 last year), the summer fishery was valued at nearly $10 million at the Southeast docks. The Dungies were big and full, Messmer added, referring to fewer soft-shelled crabs that are in the molting process and can’t be sold. The region’s lousy salmon season could mean more boats will be out on the water when the Dungeness fishery reopens in a few weeks, he added. Messmer advised that with the closure of the ADFG office in Wrangell where many crabbers reside, they need to register at the Petersburg office. “They should get on top of that sooner rather than later because not having that Wrangell office is a new thing we’re dealing with,” Messmer said. And more crab Kodiak crabbers are having their best Dungeness fishery in 30 years, with the catch since May at nearly 2 million pounds taken by 25 vessels and five good weeks of fishing left to go. “And we’re seeing similar good production through the Alaska Peninsula and Sand Point area where they are at 810,000 pounds so far. That’s more than in any recent season,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager for ADFG at Kodiak. The higher catches are due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, and Nichols added that the current Dungie cohort could be the tail end of a peak. “We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and Kodiak Dungeness crab are very cyclical. In the past these harvest peaks have lasted three years or so and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through,” Nichols explained, adding that there does not appear to be many small Dungeness crab coming up behind the current crop. What is coming up are lots of Tanner crabs. Nichols, fresh off the summer survey vessel, said the largest group of tiny Tanners they have ever seen “is still out there” and the crabs appear to be growing fast. Biologists have been tracking the new pulse of Kodiak Tanners since 2018 and next year’s survey could see a significant portion of them reaching legal size, he said. Only legal-sized male crabs can be retained for sale. Meanwhile, local crabbers might not see the expected slump between the 2013 year class of Tanners they’ve been tapping on and the arrival of the 2018 cohort. “At first glance it looks like we’ve met the minimum threshold of 100,000 pounds in each of three different sections so having a fishery in January is a possibility,” Nichols said. “I would not have predicted that a year ago.” On a related note: Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because the species was named after its discoverer, Lieutenant Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross that explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Clean up! The third Saturday of September is International Coastal Cleanup Day, started in 1986 by the Ocean Conservancy. Since then, millions of volunteers have collected and categorized over 300 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways worldwide. For the 2019 pickup, more than 940,000 volunteers in 116 countries collected nearly 32.5 million pieces of trash of which a record 4.7 million were food wrappers for candy, chips, etc. They also picked up 4.2 million cigarette butts, 1.8 million plastic bottles, 1.5 million plastic bottle caps, and more than 940,000 straws and drink stirrers. Last year was the first time food wrappers beat cigarette butts as the most collected item. Nick Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, said over 35 years the cleanup has revealed the switch to single-use plastics and its detrimental impact on ocean pollution. In the early days, Mallos said glass bottles, metal caps, and paper bags were most prevalent in the list of top collected items. By 2017 the entire top 10 list included all plastic items (cigarette butts count as plastic trash because the filters are made of plastic fibers) and it has remained that way ever since. Mallos called the issue of single-use plastics, especially food wrappers, both a design and a recycling problem that highlights the need for different types of packaging and better waste management. “Cleanup efforts are only a band-aid, not a complete solution,” he told Fast Company magazine, which focuses on innovation in technology and “world changing ideas.” “With food wrappers taking over the No. 1 pollution spot, it really underscores the unsustainable production of single-use disposable foods and beverage packaging that’s not recycled or nonrecyclable in most cases, as well as the gross inadequacies to responsibly manage this plastic waste in almost all communities around the world,” Mallos said. “We need to solve this problem upstream so that plastics never enter our waterways and never reach the beaches in the first place.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Senate debate on for Kodiak; legislators get earful over board picks

Kodiak has again scored a first debate between candidates in one of Alaska’s most high-profile political races: the U.S. Senate. Kodiak has been hosting debates for congressional and gubernatorial hopefuls since 1999 with a single focus: Alaska’s seafood industry. The date and format for the U.S. Senate faceoff are still being finalized, but it will occur in close proximity to the annual ComFish event on Sept. 17 and 18, bumped by COVID-19 from its traditional dates in March, and now set to be a virtual experience. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan and Independent challenger Dr. Al Gross are working out the details of their participation, said Sarah Phillips, executive director at the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and ComFish organizer. Viewers can livestream the debate via Facebook, YouTube and the comfishak.com website, Williams said. Those platforms also will be used for the many educational forums that will be presented virtually and made available online long after. Phillips is certain there will be a great deal of interest in the debate and ComFish events, based on the response to a virtual five-day annual Crab Fest the Chamber successfully pulled off last month. “We actually had an audience of 44,000 tune in for Crab Fest so we got a lot more reach than we typically do,” she said. “We are very aware that we have a big audience outside of Kodiak.” Still, Phillips admits that Islanders will miss the swarm of visitors, trade show exhibitors and industry experts that normally fill the town during a normal ComFish. “We can’t deny that our local hospitality industry is very highly impacted by this,” she said. “Everything from our hotels to our B&Bs and restaurants and bars. Kodiak is a really fun place for our attendees and vendors to come to, and we are missing that significant economic driver. And our fishing industry really relies on the goods and services and information that ComFish brings.” On a related note, Pacific Marine Expo also has canceled its event planned for early December in Seattle. A virtual “Expo Online” will instead be presented by National Fisherman on Nov. 17-19. BOF earful Hundreds of Alaskans gave legislators an earful at recent hearings on controversial appointees to the Board of Fisheries, which oversees management of the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. Comments are still being accepted and had topped 500 after two virtual hearings, one on Aug. 28 convened by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and another held jointly by the House Fisheries and Resources committees on Sept. 3, where more than 100 people also called in to testify. The overwhelming majority of Alaskans expressed polite outrage at Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s selection of Abe Williams of Anchorage, director of regional affairs for the Pebble Partnership. He would be the second member to be affiliated with Pebble should he be approved by the full legislature. During the five-hour Sept. 3 hearing, only four spoke in favor of Williams’ appointment. Nearly all comments also sharply criticized the makeup of the seven-member board that would be dominated by sportfish seats, and that only one member, John Jensen of Petersburg, represents a coastal fishing region. Alaskans also finally got a chance to hear from unknown appointee McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks, a self-proclaimed hunting and sportfish guide, small plane enthusiast and an adjunct professor in “economics and recreation management” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As credentials for serving on the board, Mitchell offered her graduate thesis titled “Determinants of Anglers Willingness to Pay to Support the Recreational (Halibut) Quota Entity Program.” (Halibut is not a state managed fishery; it falls under the jurisdiction of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.) Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, revealed that Mitchell had never attended a board meeting until after she was appointed by the governor, and directly questioned her lack of qualifications and experience to serve on such a complex board. Ms. Mitchell’s verbatim response: “Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that question. I can understand that I have not really been involved in this process, you know, prior to the appointment and last winter when I, you know, the, you know, I became aware that, you know, some positions were going to be coming open and, you know, and then I decided to put my name in for a seat and, and the reason I guess I wasn’t involved before is I, I just graduated school in May of 2019. “And so I, you know, my life kind of went through a big transition over the last year and a half as I completed school and completed my pilot ratings that I’ve been working at, and, you know, during those years I was waiting tables five and six nights a week while I was in school, but, you know, it’s just and now all of a sudden I’ve graduated and I have a more stable employment. “And, um, you know, I have the credentials to support a different lifestyle as opposed to, you know, trying to be a student and pay for school and whatnot, and all of a sudden I, my life has changed in the last year and a half and has given me the opportunities to be, become involved, and that’s, I guess, what I’m trying to do. So, thank you.” A stream of commenters called Mitchell “woefully lacking in experience,” and “a glaring example of why there is no trust in the system,” and called her appointment “an insult to the process” and “criminal.” Four testified in support, each saying they believed Mitchell would provide “fresh perspectives.” Although they have not been confirmed by the Alaska Legislature, Mitchell and Williams will be voting members on upcoming Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska fish issues if the Board of Fisheries convenes its meeting cycle starting in October. According to Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, the governor could call a special session and include confirmations on the agenda, but that must be done by Dec. 15. If no special session is called, “the current appointments would be interpreted as a no vote by the Alaska Legislature and they are not eligible for reappointment during the next session,” Stutes said. It all could become a moot point. The Board of Fisheries will hold a listen-only teleconference on Sept. 16 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. to consider its 2020-21 meeting schedule due to constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A live audio stream of the teleconference will be available at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov. The board accepted public comments on the topic from July 22 through Aug. 31, and the majority voiced support for postponing the meetings as opposed to holding them online. Additional written comments may be sent through September 11 to [email protected]/ or mailed to Boards Support Section, P.O. Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Processors shelling out tens of millions for Covid-19 precautions

Alaska seafood processors are paying tens of millions of dollars extra to cover costs from the COVID-19 pandemic, and most of it is coming out of pocket. Intrafish Media provides a first, in-depth look at how costs for providing protective gear like masks and gloves, testing thermometers, extra staff to handle sanitizing demands between work shifts, and modifying worker lines for social distancing are playing out in the nation’s seafood processing sector. At Bristol Bay, for example, where around 13,000 workers from outside Alaska come to work on fishing boats and in 13 plants of varying sizes, it’s estimated that all major processors combined likely spent $30 million to $40 million on Covid-19 related costs during the two peak fishing months of June and July this summer. Alaska processors covered extra costs for putting up employees in hotels and other 14-day quarantine sites, as required by the state. That alone added up to an estimated $3,500 per worker. Seafood companies also paid for pricey charter flights to isolate workers from passengers on commercial flights. Most medium to large processors had medical professionals onsite for the duration, at a cost of $30,000 to $60,000, Intrafish said. Workers were tested multiple times for the virus, with costs amounting to $175 per test. Intrafish cited testimony by Silver Bay Seafoods CEO Cora Campbell at a virtual U.S. Senate committee hearing on July 29. “In the past several months, Alaska seafood processors have spent tens of millions of dollars implementing proactive health and safety protocols to ensure we are minimizing risks to Alaska communities, protecting our seasonal and resident workforce, and maintaining operations,” she testified. “The industry is taking on these costs out of pocket at the same time we are facing severe disruption in key markets and multiple pre-COVID cost burdens,” Campbell told the senators. “While a fraction of these costs may be reimbursed, we face significant uncertainty because there’s no specific congressional directive to support health and safety protocol costs for critical seafood supply chains.” Covid prevention measures have not been included so far in federal relief loans and funds. It is unknown if they will be added into a stimulus relief package Congress could eventually pass when it returns in September from a month-long vacation. Symphony of Seafood expands The call is out for products for Alaska’s biggest seafood bash: the Alaska Symphony of Seafood. The annual competition, now in its 28th year, showcases a wide array of new market-ready Alaska seafood items at venues in Seattle and Juneau. Seafood lovers get to sample the goods that are privately judged in several categories. And as part of the event’s expansion plans, more opportunities have been added. “This year, we expanded the product categories to feature whitefish and salmon categories in addition to food service, retail and Beyond the Plate, which features products made from seafood byproducts,” said Riley Smith, communications director with the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony. The event also has added a special platform for Bristol Bay. “Additionally, we expanded the special awards category to include a Bristol Bay Choice which will be awarded by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association to the best sockeye salmon product. And included in that will be promotional and marketing support from the BBRSDA team,” Smith said. Partnering with the fishermen-funded and operated BBRSDA will help Symphony winners grow their promotions and marketing, Smith added. Through savvy branding and marketing strategies, the Bristol Bay model has seen its sockeye salmon sales expand to over 2,000 U.S. retail outlets in just a few years. –“Down the line we hope to create more partnerships with retailers and in- store promotions for our winners, and we’re really trying to approach this from every angle to increase the positive impact of the Symphony for companies big and small,” Smith said. One of the most unique things about the Symphony competition is that it levels the playing field between the biggest seafood producers and the smallest mom and pops. Last year, for example, Bullwhip Hot Sauce by Barnacle Foods of Juneau was a triple winner at retail, the Juneau People’s Choice and the overall Grand Prize. Big Symphony wins have led to shelf space at CostCo and other major outlets for Alaskan Leader Seafood’s cod fish and chips meal kit, as well as a pet food deal with Purina for its Cod Crunchies dog treats made from fish trimmings. “The Symphony is recognized around the world as a spearhead of product development coming out of Alaska and the annual competition is a super great place to show off your favorite recipe,” said Keith Singleton, president of Alaskan Leader’s value-added division. “It may lead to e-commerce, retail, club store or food service companies that will carry your brand to consumers.” “It’s worked amazingly well for us,” he added. “Everyone thought we were just a fishing company, but in reality, we are a ‘seafood’ company. The winnings that we’ve enjoyed have landed us in some wonderful markets around the world. So go for it!” All top winners get a free trip to the big Seafood Expo in Boston in March and entry into its national competition. This year’s lineup of new Alaska seafood products will be judged in late November and top winners will be announced at Pacific Marine Expo in early December. The Symphony then replays in Juneau in February where more winners will be announced. Smith said even if the Expo or the Symphony events are upended by the Covid-19 virus, the show will go on. “Absolutely! There will be a judging and there will be awards and promotions to retail associated with the Symphony,” he said. Find Alaska Symphony of Seafood entry forms at www.afdf.org/ Deadline to enter is Oct. 6. Grant give backs American Seafoods is accepting applications for its Alaska Community Grant Program from the following regions: Kodiak Island, Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. Since 1997, American Seafoods has granted more than $1.7 million to Alaskan groups and programs through its regional programs. “Our goal is to provide assistance and financial support to organizations that are making a real difference in the communities where we operate,” company president Inge Andreassen said in a press release. The amount available for grant awards for this round is $45,000 to fund community projects such as food security, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources, cultural activities and other pressing social needs. The majority of grant awards will range from $1,000 to $7,500 each. Find applications at www.americanseafoods.com, or contact Kum Lynch at [email protected] or by calling 206-256-2659. The deadline to submit applications is Oct. 12.The grant recipients will be announced by the company’s community advisory board on Oct. 28. Seafood savvy sought The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the state’s lone marketing arm, is seeking committee members who advise on strategic operations and selling of nearly every fish in the sea. ASMI, which is a public/private partnership between the state and industry, is guided by a wide range of stakeholders who provide market insights and strategies for outreach to more than 110 countries. “For example, we refer to one group as the species committee and they focus on issues specific to whitefish, salmon, shellfish. Their issues are all very different and they differ across Alaska, so we have representatives from those fisheries to guide us,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director. Other ASMI committees provide expertise on domestic and international marketing, communications and technical support. Deadline to apply for an operational or species committee seat is September 30.You can apply for more than one committee. Email applications to Sara Truitt ([email protected]) Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Bleak summer continues for most salmon fishermen

Unless you fished for salmon this summer at Bristol Bay, it’s been slim pickings for fishermen in other Alaska regions. Salmon returns have been so poor that communities already are claiming fishery disasters. Cordova’s City Council last week unanimously passed a resolution asking the state to declare disasters for both the 2018 Copper River sockeye and chinook salmon runs and the 2020 sockeye, chum and chinook runs at Copper River and Prince William Sound. The resolution also urges the state and federal governments to declare a “condition of economic disaster in Cordova as a result,” reported Seafood.com, adding, “The town of 2,500 is now the first of what will likely be at least one or two others to ask for a fisheries and economic disaster declaration in 2020.” The sockeye fishery at Chignik on the Alaskan Peninsula also has remained closed again this year. So few salmon have returned state managers said it is unlikely escapement goals will be achieved for the third consecutive year. “It’s looking like one of the worst years in Chignik history,” Ross Renick, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told KDLG in Dillingham. Salmon catches throughout Cook Inlet are bleak again this year with a total take barely topping 2.7 million, mostly pinks. Only 748,000 sockeyes have come out of the Inlet so far this season. Southeast Alaska communities also are being hit hard by weak returns; by Aug. 8 the total catch for the region had yet to reach 6 million salmon. For pinks, the catch was nearing 4 million out of an already low forecast of 12 million fish, one-third of the 10-year average of 35 million humpies. Also low were pink prices: a nickel a pound compares to a regionwide average of 33 cents in 2019. For chums, the Southeast catch had yet to reach 1.5 million out of a projected take of 9 million fish. Sluggish chum returns to the Yukon means summer fishing is likely over and ADFG said no commercial openers are likely for this fall. Low numbers also reduced fishing time at Norton Sound where only pinks have again shown up in strong numbers, but with no buying interest. At Kotzebue, a total harvest could come in at less than 200,000 chums for the first time since 2009. Across the state, the peak for coho salmon production is still a few weeks but catches so far are skimpy compared to past years. A total catch of 4.2 million silver salmon is projected for the season. There are a few notable mentions for Alaska’s 2020 salmon fishery. For the first time since 2015 commercial fishing occurred in the Kuskokwim region. Kodiak’s pink salmon catch has been strong and steady, nearing 9 million. Alaska sockeye catches have tracked nicely with preseason projections at more than 44 million fish so far. More than 39 million of the reds came from Bristol Bay but fishermen are not happy. A base price of 70 cents a pound is down 48 percent from last year and “has understandably created anger and confusion among fishermen,” said the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association in a statement on market conditions. In all, Alaska’s statewide, all-species salmon catch for 2020 is projected at nearly 133 million fish. Salmon facts: 95 percent of wild salmon eaten by Americans comes from Alaska, but Alaska salmon provides only about 13 percent of the global supply. Farmed salmon production outnumbers wild harvests by nearly 3-to-1. Buy/Sell Better! Fishermen, registered buyers and hatcheries have a new and easier way to do business online from a single location: SeafoodAuction.net. “Your existing buyers are part of this if they choose to be, and they’re the ones that are bidding. It just makes everything easier,” said Nate Berga of Kenai, the auction creator who has more than 20 years of experience in both Alaska fishing and buying. “This is somewhat like eBay in that it’s a platform for fishermen to go to advertise that I’m going fishing on this date for X amount of pounds of quota. And all the normal buyers that are around here can go to one spot to see what fishermen are going out, when, and how much. So existing companies that fishermen are used to selling to have the opportunity to bid through this platform.” The streamlined SeafoodAuction process, Berga added, is completely above board. “Fishermen often wonder if they are getting the best price and did they call the right buyers. And from the buyer’s side, no one necessarily knows what’s going on or who’s paying what. So this provides transparency in the marketplace,” he explained. The Seafood Auction also can streamline sales of hatchery cost recovery salmon, the fish sold to help fund their operations. Instead of soliciting bids from various buyers, all transactions can be done online. “Hatcheries maintain control in that they approve who can participate in the auction,” Berga said. “If there’s been anyone who they’ve had issues with, they may opt to not let somebody participate for whatever reason. It gives control to the hatchery to decide who is qualified to bid. Once that’s established, those companies can go ahead and bid in the normal auction format where the highest bidder wins.” With all of the marketing chaos cause by the Covid-19 pandemic, Berga said streamlined buying and selling by auction provides a welcome break. “Things are really uncertain right now,” he said, “and this definitely gives them an option.” Sign up for free at SeafoodAuction.net ‘All Hands’ goes online Alaska’s most popular annual seafood marketing gathering is making plans to meet online in early November instead of in person. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s annual “All Hands on Deck” event brings a huge mix of industry and interested public together to “talk fish,” but Covid-19 has corked the event for this year. “Typically, this event is held over the course of several days in Anchorage where we can all get together in the same room and have these conversations. Obviously, with travel and large meetings continuing to be uncertain for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to make a decision with our board to move to a virtual platform for 2020,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director. The All Hands meeting provides a look back at the industry’s economics and trends for the previous year, and a look ahead. ASMI, which is a public/private partnership between the state and industry, is guided by a wide range of committees that cover nearly every fish in the sea. Others provide expertise on domestic and international marketing programs, communications and technical support. Heimbigner said ASMI is researching ways to make All Hands the best event possible and input from the public in a short survey can help. The status of reliable internet for remote participants also is critical information. “What is the most important part of All Hands to you, what topics do you want to make sure we discuss and it’s really important for us to know whether the majority of participants have access to reliable internet and can access video conferences to look at presentations online, or if most of them will be calling in and might not have access to the video aspect,” she said. One benefit, Heimbigner added, is that those who have been unable to attend All Hands in the past can join in, as all meetings are open to the public. ASMI also is seeking committee members through Sept. 30. Find links at the ASMI website and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood touted in update to federal dietary guidelines

It got little attention from the mainstream media but seafood netted some historic firsts in the nation’s new dietary guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted a report in July to the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that recommends what Americans should include in their diets from 2020 to 2025, a task it has undertaken every five years since 1980. “This is by far the strongest they’ve come out for seafood in all of the U.S. dietary guidelines history, and at virtually every point in the lifecycle from babies to pregnant and lactating moms to adults. I was really amazed,” said Dr. Tom Brenna, a professor of pediatrics, chemistry and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas and at Cornell University. Along with taking a whole life approach for the first time, Brenna said the advisors also considered nutritional requirements for children younger than two years. “The general idea is that kids should be breastfed, that’s the recommendation to six months of age. And starting at six months when you’re introducing finger foods, solid foods, the recommendation is to include seafood right from the beginning,” he said. Another first: the dietary panel did a deep dive into the reams of evidence proving seafood’s nutritional benefits. “The omega-3s found in seafood are to a developing retina and brain what calcium is to bones. But it is not just the omega-3s, it is these great minerals that are in some cases rare in other foods,” Brenna explained. “The zinc and iron and selenium and iodine…and these are just not as high as they need to be in diets that are missing seafood.” The new diet guidelines now need a stamp of approval by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture before they become policy. If passed as written, seafood would be required eating at, for example, women/infant/children’s, or WIC, feeding programs and school lunches. “If you read just the executive summary, the thing you would stick into the WIC program is seafood. It looks like the most important damn thing that women could be eating,” Brenna said. “Twenty-five years ago, out of an abundance of caution, people were concerned about mercury. They said we don’t know what the thresholds are for mercury or whether it’s bad for neuro-development. It turns out after decades of research that the danger was not eating too much fish, it was eating too little fish. I could probably calculate the number of IQ points we’ve lost because of this policy. We’ve got to get people eating seafood as they used to, and we’ve got to make it a priority and a federal policy.” The committee recommends eating 8 to 12 ounces of seafood weekly, particularly before, during and after pregnancy, and stresses that only 20 percent of adults and 6 percent of children meet the goal of eating seafood twice per week. “Their report is one more piece of evidence that Americans of all ages should eat seafood more frequently,” said John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute. “As part of a healthy dietary pattern, seafood offers a lifetime of benefits from brain development among babies to heart health and a healthy weight for adults. The report even notes the link between diet-related diseases — which regular seafood consumption can help prevent — and increased susceptibility to the current global pandemic.” The public has two weeks to comment to the USDA on the new guidelines and competing protein producers will be lobbying for their products. Brenna urges seafood advocates to speak up. “Frankly, I think that some of those voices seem to be missing. You have this great passion that is coming from the scientists, because we see how important it is,” Brenna said. “If the seafood industry sits by quietly, they are going to let this opportunity pass, both for the industry itself, and also for the health of all Americans. Because this is the time, the data are there, the committee has said this is important and now it has to get translated into federal policy. But it’s a political process now and so the industry has to weigh in in a big way, and we have to get our senators and representatives on board.” Deadline to comment to USDA is Aug. 13. (www.dietaryguidelines.gov) Bibs to bags Hose off those worn and torn fishing bibs and recycle them into rugged bags and other seaworthy items. A Maine fishing family needs more bib material for its Rugged Seas line that was launched at the popular east coast Fishermen’s Forum in March. Since then the bib gear has taken off. “We’ve had people send us their bibs from Canada and Rhode Island, up and down the East Coast, from Washington state. It’s been really exciting. Even at a time where things are really challenging I think people have liked the story and it’s been a good connection. It’s really taken off,” said Nikki Strout, co-owner of Rugged Seas with her husband Taylor, a lifelong lobsterman who also has fished out of Dutch Harbor since 2012. Nikki said he was inspired by all the fishery-related hoodies and t-shirts he saw there and started designing similar wear for Maine. That evolved to include upscale uses for bibs. “In the last three or four years here in Portland, there have been a lot of struggles that the fishermen have been facing and working waterfront and development issues,” she said. “So we really wanted to try to bring some more attention to the fishing industry and the lifestyle. We were trying to think of something that each fishery has that is very identifiable. And we thought of bibs and said is there a way we can repurpose them instead of throwing them away?” The Strouts also connected with well-known oilskin maker Guy Cotten who gives them remnants for Rugged Seas gear. A portion of all sales goes to local fishing groups. “It’s a hard lifestyle, the work they do and then being a family that, you know, we haven’t seen Taylor in eight weeks now,” Nikki said. “So to kind of tell a story with every bag we make is the whole goal.” The Strouts hope to get bib drop barrels in Alaska fishing towns but for now, donors can get free Rugged Seas gear to cover their shipping costs. “They can ship directly to us,” Nikki said, “and I would be very happy to send some free gear out to anybody who wants to donate their old bibs or jackets or whatever they have.” www.ruggedseas.com Weigh in on water The public can comment through Aug. 24 on whether the Pebble mine project will or will not violate existing state water quality laws. Section 401 of the Clean Water Act gives states and Native Tribes the right to protect waters within their borders. Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can authorize a permit allowing Pebble to discharge dredged or fill material into streams or wetlands, the state Department of Environmental Conservation must certify that it will not violate existing laws. If DEC does not issue a certification or a waiver, the Corps cannot issue a permit under the Clean Water Act. The deadline to comment on the state certification is Aug. 24. ([email protected]) Letters can be mailed to: DEC Commissioner Jason Brune, WDAP/401 Certification, 555 Cordova St., Anchorage, AK 99501. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Alaska’s top export omitted from federal trade data

Most Alaskans are surprised to learn that seafood is by far Alaska’s top export, the source of the state’s largest manufacturing base and its No. 1 private employer. More surprising is that those simple to find facts are not included in the official trade sheet for Alaska provided by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, or USTR. The information on the USTR website, for example, incorrectly claims that petroleum and coal were Alaska’s top exports in 2018. But seafood has been state’s top export by far for decades. “Seafood comprises over half of Alaska’s annual export value, averaging $3.3 billion annually over the past decade, averaging $5.6 billion from 20170-2018,” reports the Resource Development Council for Alaska on its fisheries page. The USTR states that “Alaska goods exports in 2016 (latest year available) supported an estimated 37,000 jobs.” Wrong again. Alaska’s seafood industry alone supports nearly 60,000 direct jobs and an additional 10,000 secondary jobs. And as the RDC points out, “seafood processing is the largest manufacturing sector in Alaska, accounting for 70 percent of Alaska’s manufacturing employment.” But the federal trade reps have a different take. Under the USTR category Made in America Manufacturing Exports from Alaska and Jobs, it states: “Other top manufacturing exports are transportation equipment ($68 million), food &kindred products ($23 million), computer &electronic products ($23 million), and machinery, except electrical ($23 million). Who knew?! For the category “Agriculture in Alaska Depends on Exports,” the USTR claims that: “Alaska is the country’s 50th largest agricultural exporting state, shipping $17 million in domestic agricultural exports abroad in 2017.” Alaska’s top agricultural products listed are “other plant products” ($14 million), “other livestock products” ($1 million), followed by “feeds and other grains, processed grain products, and beef and veal” ($326,000). But Alaska is not alone in the seafood snub. A review of other states’ official trade pages shows contributions by the industry are not mentioned for fishing powerhouses like Maine, Massachusetts or Louisiana and more. And Hawaii will be surprised to learn that, according to the federal trade office, its largest exports also are petroleum and coal, although it has no reserves of either! Overall, the USTR state trade data is poorly defined, loaded with incorrect facts and figures, provides no attribution, and each page looks like a sloppy cut and paste job tossed together with no expertise or interest. Hopefully, the issue will draw the attention of Robert DeHaan who on July 17 was appointed to the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee that covers trade in animal products. DeHaan is the Vice President for Government Affairs at the National Fisheries Institute and has worked at the senior government level in both trade and transportation. The committee advises the government on policy matters including existing trade agreements and the negotiation of new ones. “This is a great opportunity for the seafood community to have a seat at the table where trade decisions are made,” DeHaan said in a NFI press release. “I’m thrilled to be able to bring our industry’s perspective and guidance to the people in charge of trade policy.” China tariffs tank Alaska seafood It’s been two years since President Trump started a trade war with China by imposing taxes on U.S. seafood going to that country, taxes that are paid by Americans and not the Chinese, as he would have you believe. Seafood comprises more than 30 percent of Alaska’s export volume and the ongoing tariffs have added up to huge losses from our biggest trading partner. An analysis by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute shows that exports to China reached the highest level ever in 2017, at nearly $1 billion ($988 million). By 2018, Alaska seafood exports dropped by $204 million, the largest year over year decrease ever. And by 2019, sales to China were at the lowest level since 2010 at $702 million. That’s a drop of more than $250 million in two years. During the same time, China saw a 91 percent increase in seafood imports from other nations, going from $8.1 billion to $15.4 billion. While the exact amount varies by species and product, ASMI said the average tax on Alaska seafood entering China is 38 percent. For comparison, it’s 8 percent for Norway, Russia and Canada; Chile and New Zealand pay zero seafood tax to China. There’s been explosive growth among Chinese seafood eaters since the tariffs were enacted, ASMI said, with sales jumping from $8.1 billion to $15.4 billion since 2018. But that growing appetite is being filled with seafood from elsewhere than Alaska or the U.S. Added to the trade squeeze with China, the U.S. seafood industry also continues to compete with less expensive imports from Russia. Trade data show the US imported nearly $700 million worth of Russian-caught seafood in 2019, although that country has embargoed all seafood U.S. imports since 2014. Combine U.S. trade policies that are clearly at odds with backing the seafood industry, mix in crippling and ongoing market impacts from Covid-19 and it adds up to a triple whammy for Alaska’s fishermen and coastal communities. Don’t dump your dumps Don’t be dumping your doings overboard is a message from the state of Alaska to fishing vessel operators. A letter sent out last week by the Department of Environmental Conservation reminds fishermen that it is illegal to dump sewage within three miles from shore. “It is common practice, obviously, for folks to use a honey bucket on their boat and to just throw it overboard. There is no doubt it is an ongoing practice. So, we are working to educate folks operating in our waters about the Clean Water Act. I would encourage folks to think about the water in general, think about being good stewards, and to bring that to our proper disposal on shore,” DEC Commissioner Jason Brune told KDLG in Dillingham. Dumping sewage violates the Clean Water Act and can net you a fine up to $2,000. Brune’s letter also said the dumpings damage the nearshore environment by contaminating shellfish beds and fish habitat and can spread diseases to other people. All boats with onboard bathrooms must use Coast Guard approved sanitation devices with storage tanks that are emptied at a pump station on shore or beyond three miles. Boats with honey buckets also can use the pump stations or bag style camp toilets that can be sealed and disposed of at approved collection areas. Along with the dangers of contamination, Brune pointed out that dumping sewage in nearby waters simply sends the wrong message. “We have environmental standards that we want to hold folks to,” he said, “to make sure that we’re being protective of our marine resources, of our fish and of the environment that we love here in Alaska.” Fish Board find A public records request to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Boards and Commissions produced a redacted resume for his elusive Board of Fisheries nominee, McKenzie Mitchell. It says since 2019 she has been a professor of economics and “recreation business leadership” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a “contract economist for NOAA constructing market demand models for fisheries prevalent in Alaska.” Mitchell’s resume says she has been a boat captain and sport fishing guide at lodges on Kodiak Island for several years, presently at Raspberry Island Remote Lodge. She also is an assistant big game guide at Afognak Wilderness Lodge at Kodiak and Midnight Sun Safaris and Lazy J-Bar-O Outfitters at Healy. A hearing on the fish board nominees is set for Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. at the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage. Public comments can be submitted now to Rep. Louise Stutes at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Hearing set for board picks; seafood sales jump

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s controversial selections to the state Board of Fisheries will get a legislative hearing in early fall and the call is out for public comments. The board oversees management of the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. Appointments were made on April 1 and would normally go through a vigorous vetting process by the Alaska legislature with public input. But COVID-19 sent lawmakers home early from the last session, leaving the confirmation process in limbo. Now, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, has set the date for a hearing. “I tried to push it out as far as I thought I safely could because I know there’s a lot of guys out fishing. But I just didn’t dare push it any further than Thursday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office,” she said in a phone interview. Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, added: “I think it is appropriate to vet these appointees prior to the board meetings. I find it disturbing and I question how appointees can be a viable, countable vote when they have not been confirmed by the Legislature, and that’s the situation now.” Controversy has swirled over Dunleavy’s selection of Abe Williams of Anchorage, director of regional affairs for the Pebble mine, proposed to be built at the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay. Williams, who would replace Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, is originally from King Salmon and is a Bristol Bay fisherman. He was one of six who in 2019 sued the fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association for using part of the 1 percent tax paid by its 1,650 members to oppose the mine. The lawsuit, funded by Pebble, was dismissed by an Anchorage judge. Williams told KTUU in April that, “My job finds me in communities like Iliamna and other communities talking about the project itself and kind of what it means for the region. “Does that preclude me from being appointed or sitting on the Board of Fisheries? I don’t think so. I think it just brings in a level of diversity in my background that really helps me be better positioned to sit in a coveted spot like this, if you will.” Current board member Märit Carlson-Van Dort also was a former Pebble Partnership director as recently as 2018. Dunleavy also appointed self-claimed fishing/hunting guide McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks to replace Reed Moriskey, also of Fairbanks. Mitchell is listed as adjunct faculty in “sport and recreation business” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Management. Mitchell “has fished with several remote lodges over the years and was looking to upgrade her captains license so joined our team,” according to the website of Kodiak’s Wilderness Beach Lodge. It adds that “She goes to school in Fairbanks in the fall/winter where her and her boyfriend reside and enjoy flying their small planes into remote hunting/camping sites.” A Personal Records Request was submitted to the Governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions for information about Mitchell.        “As far as these two appointments go, the Dunleavy administration is once again either out of touch with commercial fishermen at best, or out to get us at worst,” said Lindsey Bloom, a fisherman and a campaign strategist for SalmonState. “I fished around Abe in Bristol Bay and certainly respect his skills and knowledge as a commercial fisherman. That said, his employment with Pebble makes it impossible for him to properly represent the overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay fishermen who oppose the Pebble project because of its detriment to the Bristol Bay brand and fishery. “Abe’s appointment is a colossal conflict of interest. As far as McKenzie Mitchell goes, I can’t find her resume, background or opinions anywhere online and have no idea if she can bring the listening and discernment skills that a seat on Alaska’s Board of Fisheries requires, where decisions are made that impact the livelihoods and wellbeing of Alaskans for years to come.” If the governor has his way, all fish board members but one will reside inland. “There are seven Board of Fish members and John Jensen of Petersburg will be the only coastal representation,” said Stutes. “I understand that Interior fisheries are important, but so are coastal fisheries. There should be a fair distribution of the resource representation and there isn’t. It’s just wrong.” If the legislature gets called back to Juneau to deal with budget and Covid-19 relief issues and it interferes with the Sept. 3, date Stutes said she will call a hearing there. “Bottom line is there will be a hearing prior to the first Board of Fish meeting in October. I believe it’s critical to give people an opportunity to weigh in,” she said. After the hearing, the appointee names will be forwarded to the House Resources Committee and then to the full legislature for confirmation (or not). An emergency measure due to the pandemic was implemented (HB 309) which temporarily extended the time for the legislature to meet jointly to take up the governor’s appointments prior to the next legislative session in January. If that does not occur, Stutes said the nominees will simply “go away.” Meanwhile, they will be seated as voting members during the meetings starting in October that focus on Prince William Sound, Upper Copper and Susitna Rivers and Southeast and Yakutat regions. “They are just like a regular board member and that to me is problematic. I believe they should be confirmed by the legislature. It’s a goofed up system,” Stutes said. Public comments on the Board of Fisheries appointees can be emailed to Stutes’ legislative office at [email protected] “They can start today,” Stutes said. A salmon wind Alaska salmon managers have decades of data to help them forecast and track the arrival of fish each year. Alaska Natives add to that knowledge with their centuries of salmon observations. One indicator of the size and timing of the runs is the spring bird migration, said James Nicori of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Looking at the birds and observing them, they were late. So those salmon will come in, but the high numbers will be at a later date,” he told KYUK in Bethel. Another sign, he said, is the size of mosquitos when they arrive in the spring. “This year, when the mosquitoes first came in they were bigger than last year, and the first kings that I caught were bigger than last year,” he said. The biggest indicator, Nicori added, is wind. “When there is a certain wind direction, it pushes fish in the mouth of the river,” he said. Yukon elders taught the importance of wind to Phil Mundy, longtime Director of NOAA Fisheries’ Auke Bay lab in Juneau, now retired. Cook Inlet elders said the same thing about sockeyes. “They said ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that,’” Mundy said. “We couldn’t figure out how the wind was doing what it did. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something there because the elders seemed to be right.” Mundy had studied Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2006 when he learned that wind helps trip a calcium ion switch that mixes the water and lets salmon adjust from salt to fresh water and vice versa. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen at Bristol Bay and at Cook Inlet where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume, and then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge between the fresh and the salt water,” Mundy explained. “And I never knew why they were doing that. They will pile up there if there is no wind to mix that water to make it brackish. They will pile up until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” At the Yukon River, Mundy said the wind-whipped water even tops early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. Today satellite data from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make predictions easier and more reliable. (See www.aoos.org) Seafood sales surge The pandemic stalled seafood sales at restaurants where up to 75 percent of Americans opt for fish or shellfish meals. But at supermarkets and outlets that offer online sales and pickup or delivery services, seafood has become the fastest growing category. Chicago-based Information Resources Incorporated said that year to date sales of both canned and frozen seafood were nearly 37 percent higher over the four weeks ending in mid-April and the upswing has continued. Nielsen, which has documented eating trends for over 90 years, said seafood was the fastest growing category at the end of May when purchase volumes jumped 26 percent over the prior 13 weeks. At the end of June, IRI added that seafood posted the most significant growth for 10 weeks straight, up 64 percent from a year ago. Sales of fresh seafood spiked nearly 60 percent to nearly $163 million for the week ending June 27, according to Nielsen data provided to SeafoodSource. Sales of fresh lobster increased almost 292 percent, followed by crab, (up 150.5 percent), clams (up 80.1 percent), and snapper (up 79.4 percent). Frozen seafood sales jumped more than 50 percent in May and increased by 21 percent to $1.2 billion in late June. Frozen crab had the biggest sales gain of nearly 170 percent followed by frozen scallops (up 106.6 percent), crawfish (up 100.8 percent), and mussels (89.4 percent). Canned and pouched seafood saw more modest gains of 12.2 percent but sales reached nearly $5 billion at the end of June. Thirty-two percent of households said they were “extremely or very likely” to use grocery online shopping and delivery or pick up services even if the virus subsides, especially those over 60. The upward trend at retail is likely to continue. Restaurants that had reopened are now facing restrictions again as the Coronavirus spikes in many U.S. states. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Lasting impacts loom for seafood price, demand

The global seafood industry will experience lasting impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, including reduced demand and pricing. That is the conclusion of the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report produced every two years by the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, of the United Nations, the only report that tracks global fisheries and food trends. This year it included a special focus on the pandemic that has toppled seafood markets and supply chains around the world. The report forecasts that global seafood production will be down 1.7 percent (6.6 billion pounds) and the trade value of seafood will decrease by nearly $6 billion. Of that, wild capture fisheries are projected to decrease by 2 percent (nearly 4.2 billion pounds), while aquaculture production is expected to decrease by 1.4 percent (2.6 million pounds). The virus impacts also have pushed down prices. The global Fish Price Index showed an 8.3 percent drop in fish prices between January and May of this year compared to the same time in 2019. The closure of restaurants has drastically curtailed seafood demand, the report said, leading to the “evaporation of food service demand in many important markets.” “Effects on retail sales have been more mixed, however, with demand for packaged and frozen products boosted as households look to stock up on non-perishable foods,” it added. “Whatever the timeframe, prolonged market downturn can be expected even after current restrictions are lifted or relaxed,” the report said. “Luxury products and species that are primarily marketed fresh and through food service will be the most heavily affected. Most seafood trade events will continue to be postponed or cancelled for some time to come.” Salmon has been the most valuable traded seafood commodity since 2013 and accounted for 19 percent of the total value of internationally traded fish products in 2018. Production growth is expected to increase, but at a much slower pace. A worldwide drop in demand for salmon of at least 15 percent is projected and retail sales are not expected to recover for some time, the FAO said, adding that retail sales of fresh salmon will be especially hit hard. More upbeat highlights: Seafood is one of the world’s most widely traded food commodities and global fish consumption has increased by 3.1 percent on average from 1961 to 2017, higher than all other animal proteins. Estimates peg global per capita fish consumption at over 45 pounds in 2018. World fisheries produced a record 212 billion tons in 2018, 5.4 percent more on average from the previous three years. The increase was due mainly to anchoveta catches of 15.4 billion pounds from Peru and Chile. Alaska pollock ranked second at 7.5 billion pounds, followed by skipjack tuna at 7 billion pounds. Global aquaculture production also reached another all-time record of nearly 252 billion pounds live weight in worth nearly $264 billion in 2018. The U.S. ranks 6th overall for marine fish captures following China, Indonesia, Peru, India, and Russia. The Northwest Pacific had the highest production at 25 percent of global landings. It’s estimated 59.5 million people were engaged in fishing and aquaculture in 2018; women accounted for just 14 percent. The total number of fishing vessels, from small non-motorized boats to large at-sea processors, was 4.56 million, down 2.8 percent from 2016. Asia still had the largest fleet, estimated at 3.1 million, 66 percent of the total. Nearly 80 percent of current landings come from biologically sustainable stocks. The Mediterranean and Black Sea had the highest percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels (62.5 percent), followed by the Southeast Pacific (54.5 percent) and Southwest Atlantic (53.3 percent). In contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific, Southwest Pacific, Northeast Pacific and Western Central Pacific had the lowest levels (13 to 22 percent). Too much seafood is either lost or wasted around the world, 35 percent, the UN report says. Seafood is recognized as not only some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but also as some of the least impactful on the natural environment. Fish watch Alaska’s salmon catch was nearing 8.5 million fish as of July 3; more than half were sockeyes, mostly from Bristol Bay where catches continued to build. Anecdotal reports said the average sizes of sockeye are down at Bristol Bay and the same for pinks at the Alaska Peninsula. Chinook salmon in Southeast also are smaller, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The kings were weighing in at 11.7 pounds on average, down 2 pounds compared to the past five years. Trollers can catch more than 85,000 chinook salmon this summer, a 51 percent increase from last year. The summer fishery opened July 1 and was expected to last about one week. Fishermen in Quinhagak have formed a group of 70 harvesters to revitalize commercial salmon fishing in Kuskokwim Bay. The Independent Fishermen of Quinhagak Cooperative also includes members from Goodnews Bay, Platinum, and Eek who will sell to E&E Foods. It’s the first fishery since 2016 when the Coastal Villages Region Fund pulled the plug on buying local fish. Divers in Southeast continue to pull up giant geoduck clams and crabbers are into a two-month summer fishery for Dungeness based on a strong start to the season. Only 117 crabbers are on the grounds, down from 170 last summer; the price has dropped to $1.72 per pound compared to $2.97 last season. Kodiak crabbers also are dropping pots for Dungies. A red king crab fishery is open at Norton Sound, but because of concerns for the stock, most fishermen were opting to fish for cod. A golden king crab fishery opens on Aug. 1 in the Bering Sea with a 6.6 million pound quota. A ling cod fishery opened in Prince William Sound on July 1, and a herring food and bait herring fishery opened June 29 at Dutch Harbor. Scallop fishing opened in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea on July 1 with a reduced quota of 277,500 pounds of shucked meats. Almost half of that goes to the Yakutat region. Halibut landings were nearing 6 million pounds, or 36 percent of the 16 million pound catch limit. Homer leads for landings, followed by Sitka and Kodiak. For sablefish, 10.5 million pounds of the nearly 32 million-pound quota have been taken. Sitka has seen the most deliveries, followed by Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Fishing for pollock, cod, flounders and other species is ongoing in the Gulf and Bering Sea. Catch this! Alaska Fishtopia brings previously scattered sportfishing information all together for the first time direct to mobile phones. “Literally everything you need to know about fishing in Alaska, whether you’re on the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak or wherever you’re at, you have all of the resources,” said Britt Lueck, Fishtopia marketing director. “You can also download the regulation books to your phone and you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to view them. And you can select a region and see every kind of species that you can fish for,” she explained. “And a really big piece of the app is the maps feature which has multiple layers and you can check out tides, currents, marine weather or what is the best time to fish for halibut or whatever.” Alaska Fishtopia also has a vigorous, interactive social component. “You can post pictures of the fish that you’re catching. And you can stay connected with local guides who have opportunities for you to jump on a boat if they have an open seat. We’re also promoting events and entertainment,” Lueck said. “So when I’m done fishing for the day and I want to go grab a bite to eat and maybe listen to some local music, where can I go? It brings the entire fishing community together in an app.” Alaska Fishtopia was created by Jim Voss of Alaska Boat Rental and Guide Service in Kenai. Members who pay $1.99 per year are eligible to win big prizes from local businesses all summer. www.akfishtopia.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Decision day approaches for Pebble mine review

The biggest red salmon run in the world is building at Bristol Bay. Up to 50 million fish could surge into its eight river systems in coming weeks, on par with past seasons. When it’s all done, the fishery will provide nearly half the global supply of wild sockeye salmon. But this summer is different. Not only due to the restrictions and fears and economic chaos caused by Covid-19. At the height of the fishery, fishermen will learn if a massive gold and copper mine that’s been hanging over their heads for two decades gets a greenlight from the federal government. In mid-July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will unveil its federal “record of decision” on the permit application by Northern Dynasty of Vancouver, Canada, to build the Pebble mine at the sprawling mosaic of headwaters that provide the spawning and rearing grounds for the region’s salmon. Three decisions are possible for the mine: issue a permit, issue a permit with conditions, or deny the application. “As Bristol Bay’s fishermen head out to the fishing grounds for the next six weeks, we are counting on Congress to protect the 14,500 workers directly employed by the commercial salmon fishery,” said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “Pebble mine is a threat to Alaskan jobs, America’s food security, and a salmon resource unparalleled anywhere on the planet.” “The EPA’s own science shows that this project poses an unacceptable risk to our country’s greatest remaining wild salmon runs,” said Katherine Carscallen, director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “We look to Alaska’s senators for their leadership and implore the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto Pebble’s permit.” Such calls for help will likely go unheard. Alaska’s two Republican senators and lone congressman have staunchly stood behind the Pebble project’s right to go through a rigorous and fair permitting process and have been tightlipped about their opinions in the meantime. Now that the process is pretty much a wrap, will they finally tell Alaskans if they are “for or agin’ it?” “Congressman Young remains committed to seeing the process fully completed, but without a finished report, there is nothing that can be commented on,” responded press secretary Zack Brown. “The federal permitting process is ongoing, and until there is a decision document to review there is nothing on which to provide comment,” said Mike Anderson, Communications Director for Sen. Dan Sullivan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office did not respond but she would likely express “concern.” Every survey and poll ever done has shown that a huge majority of Alaskans from all regions oppose the Pebble mine. But equivocating with constituents is the way of today’s politicians. Former Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 stated emphatically and often: “I’m not opposed to mining, but Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place.” Love him or not, you always knew Uncle Ted’s stance on anything you asked him in his 40-year tenure in the U.S. Senate. Alaska’s current reps in Congress might not dare come clean about Pebble, but investors are wiping their hands of the project. Global investment banking firm Morgan Stanley, once the fourth largest institutional shareholder in Northern Dynasty, on March 31 sold 99.14 percent in its shareholdings in the project, reported the National Resources Defense Council and CNN Money. “While the reasons for Morgan Stanley’s recent sell-off are unknown, the global investment company is known as a strong proponent of the principle that environmental and social responsibility are essential to long-term investment success,” the NRDC said. That sell-off is just the latest of Pebble put-downs on a global scale. In 2011, Mitsubishi Corp. sold out. In 2013, Anglo American abandoned its partnership, walking away from a nearly $600 million investment. In 2014, Rio Tinto donated its shares to two Alaskan non-profits: Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. Education Foundation. In 2018, First Quantum Minerals walked away after five months from a $37.5 million investment and option for a 50 percent partnership. Also in 2018, BlackRock zeroed out its shareholdings. New York investment firm Kerrisdale Capital Management called Northern Dynasty’s plans “worthless,” “a value-destroying boondoggle,” “doomed,” “politically-impaired” and “commercially futile.” “The cash-strapped 100 percent owner’s desperate hope—its “business plan”—is that the issuance of a permit by the Army Corps will attract new investment, a new partner, or a buy-out,” the NRDC said. Despite its claims of a “smaller footprint” for Pebble, Northern Dynasty states on its website that its “principal asset, owned through its wholly owned Alaska-based U.S. subsidiary, Pebble Limited Partnership, is a 100 percent interest in a contiguous block of 2,402 mineral claims in southwest Alaska, including the Pebble deposit.” Every landslide begins with a single Pebble… Building a mine like Pebble (or Donlin) can be compared to building a new Alaska city. The “Pebble deposit” lies within a 417-square-mile claim block and will include an open pit, a 550 foot high tailings dam to hold roughly 30 billion cubic feet of mining wastes forever, overburden stockpiles, quarry sites, water management ponds, milling and processing facilities, a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the site, a power plant, water treatment plants, camp and storage facilities, and an 83-mile road along Lake Iliamna to haul the gold and copper to Diamond Point in Cook Inlet for shipment. (Based on a new “northern route” plan that Pebble opted for a few weeks ago.) The EPA said in a May 28 letter, “the discharges of dredged or fill material…may well contribute to the permanent loss of 2,292 acres of wetlands and other waters is anticipated, including 105.4 miles of streams, along with secondary impacts to 1,647 acres of wetlands and other waters, including 80.3 miles of streams, associated with fugitive dust deposition, dewatering, and fragmentation of aquatic habitats.” The tools of the mining trade - hundreds of huge, diesel-fueled bulldozers, blasters, crushers, trucks and other heavy equipment – kick up a lot of dust. The Army Corps says Pebble will generate nearly 16,000 tons of “fugitive dust” during mining and transports. When it’s blowing in the wind, the dust will carry copper and other particles to thousands of acres of wetlands and streams. “Increases in copper concentrations of just 2-20 parts per billion, equivalent to two drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, have been shown to impact the critical sense of smell to salmon which they use to avoid predators and to locate the stream in which they were spawned,” said Thomas Quinn, aquatic and fishery science professor at the University of Washington. In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that a large scale mine like Pebble would be “devastating” to the world’s biggest salmon run and to the region’s culture, and special protections were provided under the Clean Water Act. The Trump Administration abruptly removed the protections in 2017, saying the move “pre-empted the permitting process.” It also got a big push from Gov. Mike Dunleavy who has made no secrets about his support for Pebble. Alaska’s Senators and Congressman supported Trump’s move. But D.C. can now step aside. The state of Alaska will make the final decision on the mine. The Pebble applicants do not own the surface rights associated with the mineral claims and all the lands are owned by the state. Notably, the claim(s) lies within the 36,000 square-mile Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, created by voter initiative (70 percent) in 1972 as a way to safeguard salmon from large scale oil, gas and mining projects. State law requires that the final say on permitting Pebble falls to the Alaska Legislature. Fish on! The competitions’ Take Dr. Al Gross, candidate for U.S. Senate running against Sen. Dan Sullivan: “I know the developers have scaled back the scope of the mine to try to reduce the impact, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still at the headwaters of one of the world’s most important salmon runs. And I’m worried that if they start small, that at some point in the near future they’ll push to expand it. Nothing is going to change the fact that this is the wrong mine, wrong place, and even a small risk to this state and national treasure is too much.” Alyse Galvin, candidate for U.S. House running against Rep. Don Young: “Alaska is a natural resource state and mining is a key part of our economy, however, so are our fisheries. I am opposed to the Pebble Mine Project because it is the wrong mine in the wrong location and represents too big a risk to Bristol Bay, the greatest salmon fishery in the world. We need Alaska’s representatives in Washington to once again be full-throated champions of Alaska’s fisheries.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Cod relief funds stall as humpy payments finally move

Unexpected upheavals stemming from the coronavirus have slowed the process of getting relief payments into the hands of fishermen and communities hurt by the 2018 Gulf of Alaska cod crash. In late February, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross cut loose $24.4 million for affected stakeholders. Then in late March, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang proposed a written timeline for developing a distribution plan and also called for input from communities and fishing groups. A draft of the initial plan was intended to compile stakeholder comments in April, be revised in May, and go out for a second round of public input in June and July. But that timeframe was derailed a bit by Covid-19. Now, the state is “aiming” to get the draft distribution plan out for the first round of stakeholder and public comments by the end of June, according to Rick Green, assistant to the ADFG commissioner. There will be a month for comments, Green said, and after resulting revisions the plan will be sent out for more feedback, likely in late August. Then it will be reviewed, finalized and sent to NOAA Fisheries for approval, hopefully in September. ADFG will work with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to get the distribution done as quickly as possible, he added. The disaster funds will assist fishing communities affected by the cod crash by going to fishermen, subsistence users, shore-side businesses and infrastructure. Money also can be used for research activities to help improve the fishing ecosystem and environment. Pink salmon funds, finally Hopefully, the process for cod losses will move more quickly than they payout for the 2016 pink salmon failure in which more than $56 million in federal relief funds finally made it to fishermen, processors and communities in just the past few months. It includes Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik, Lower Cook Inlet, South Alaska Peninsula, Southeast Alaska and Yakutat. Congress OK’d the money in 2017, but the authorization sat on bureaucrats’ desks in D.C. for more than two years. Then it was discovered that the ways in which the payouts to pink salmon fishermen were calculated was badly flawed, stalling the process even further. Salmon permit holders, who split the biggest share at nearly $32 million, were finally able to apply last October to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission which administers the funds. There were 1,318 permit holders who applied and 905 received payments, according to Karla Bush, ADFG Extended Jurisdiction Program Manager. Funds allocated to permit holders were calculated based on the loss of pink salmon ex-vessel,or dockside, value for each management area as compared to its five even year fishery average value. The disaster funds were distributed based on an area’s fishery value equal to 70.56 percent of the respective five even year average dockside value. That resulted in minimum payments of $139,200 for 464 permit holders in Southeast Alaska; $22,800 for 76 from Yakutat; $7,800 for 26 Lower Cook Inlet salmon permit holders; $97,500 for 325 at Prince William Sound; $71,400 for 238 Kodiak fishermen; $31,500 for 105 recipients at the South Alaska Peninsula; and $18,900 for 63 salmon permit holders at Chignik. Of the 2,233 crewmembers who applied for disaster funds 1,554 were eligible for payouts. According to a PSMFC fact sheet, payments to crew were deducted from a permit holder’s loss based on crew shares. For example, if a permit holder had a loss of $25,000, a crewmember listed as earning a 10 percent share would be eligible for a payment of $2,500. A total of 38 Alaska salmon processors applied for the funds and 30 were eligible, Bush said. They split nearly $18 million in relief funds, of which 15 percent of each processor’s total were deducted and distributed equally to eligible processing workers. In addition, $2.4 million was earmarked for Alaska municipalities affected by the pink crash and nearly $4 million for pink salmon research. Of that, $450,000 went to Kodiak’s Kitoi Bay Hatchery for its Saltwater Marking Sampling project. The Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey was set to get $680,000 to help with pink salmon forecasting. And $2.5 million went to the Alaska Hatchery Research Project that since 2010 has studied interactions of hatchery and wild salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast. U.S. regions that face fisheries disasters will no longer endure the years of awaiting funds if Congress passes a bipartisan bill introduced in January called the Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act, or Fishery FUNDD Act, that would improve the federal process and set a strict timeline for payout of funds. Signs of salmon trouble The total abundance of Pacific salmon in the North Pacific remains near all-time highs but there are some troubling signs. Harvests have slowly declined over the past decade, and last year showed especially low catches of some salmon species. That’s based on annual data from the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, or NPAFC, which for nearly 30 years has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its five member countries: Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S. It tracks all salmon species caught in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also coordinates research and enforcement. The latest NPAFC findings show that the total 2019 salmon catch was 563.3 million fish, down from 651 million in 2018. The declines were driven by several factors: Japan had its lowest chum catches since 1970 (55.9 thousand metric tons). In Canada, catches of chum, sockeye and pink salmon were the lowest since 1925 (2,973 metric tons). Even worse, for Washington, Oregon and California, catches of chinook, chum, and coho salmon were the worst on record (4,965 metric tons). In terms of who caught the most salmon, Russia took 51 percent of the total (499.2 thousand metric tons), followed by the U.S. at 42 percent (406.9 thousand metric tons), nearly all of which came from Alaska (401.9 thousand metric tons), mostly pinks and sockeye salmon followed by chums. Japan was a distant third at 6 percent (59.5 thousand metric tons), with Canada claiming just 1 percent of the salmon catch (2.9 thousand metric tons) and Korea at just 130 metric tons. Pink salmon made up 54 percent of the North Pacific catch by weight, followed by chum (24 percent) and sockeye salmon (19 percent). Coho comprised 2 percent, while Chinook salmon, was less than 1 percent of the total catch. Last year also saw record salmon hatchery releases into the North Pacific. While releases from the five nations have held at roughly 5 billion fish since 1993, they reached 5.5 billion in 2019 due to increased output from Asian hatchery. Hatchery releases were primarily chum (3,469 million, 63 percent) and pink salmon (1,357 million, 25 percent), followed by sockeye (341 million, 6 percent), Chinook (241 million, 4 percent), and coho salmon (82 million, 2 percent), The NPAFC added that “interannual variability in the total catch in North America has been more pronounced during the last decade than in previous decades, primarily because of variability in pink salmon catches.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: All systems are ‘go’ for Alaska’s fisheries

All systems are go for keeping close tabs on fish and crab stocks in waters managed by the state, meaning out to three miles. While constraints from the coronavirus resulted in nearly all annual stock surveys being cut in deeper waters overseen by the federal government, it’s “closer to normal” closer to shore. “While it’s not business as usual, we are conducting business in as close to normal fashion as we can,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “We have kept all of our area offices open and all of our field projects in place to monitor salmon stocks around the state this summer, as well as our projects and support for other fisheries,” Bowers said, adding that ADFG has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic “very seriously” and has had strict protection plans in place since March. The state surveys a wide range of fish and shellfish stocks each summer throughout waters in the Gulf and Bering Sea, all the way up to the Arctic regions of Norton Sound for red king crab. “We do all we can in support of the fisheries around the state because we recognize the importance to the people in Alaska and our primary objective is to keep our staff safe and protect the public as well,” Bowers added. It’s good news for fishery biologists at Kodiak who are heading out for the summer-long Tanner crab survey throughout the westward region. “We’ve modifying the schedule somewhat,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish and groundfish manager at ADFG in Kodiak. “We’re doing two legs instead of five to minimize the number of times that the crew comes in. We also won’t be doing any of our normal ports of call into Sand Point, Dutch Harbor, King Cove, Chignik or Alitak.” The crew and three scientists, which usually totals about 10, do the surveys aboard the state-owned 95-foot stern trawler M/V Resolution and assess more than 300 stations each year at a rate of eight to 10 per day. “We came out of the shop two years ago 10 feet wider. So now we’re 95 by 36. It is a very capable platform,” Nichols said. “We tow a standard grid that has been fixed for years, and we’ve developed a really good time series since 1988.” The annual survey gets some federal funding to assess weights and lengths of any groundfish such as cod, halibut, rockfish or pollock that are hauled up but the primary focus is Tanner crab. The team is tracking the largest recruitment of Tanners they’ve ever seen, estimated at a whopping 270 million crabs. “By the time we see them in the survey they’re maybe the size of a quarter and about a year old, maybe year two even,” Nichols explained. “It’s typically about four years until we see them at legal size. Using that timing, we first saw these Tanner crab in 2018, so this group would be seen in a survey at a legal size in 2022 for a 2023 fishery.” Lots of the crab appear to be growing faster than normal and Nichols said the bulk of the pack could be ready sooner. “I think we could be seeing a good chunk, or at least the leading edge of them, legal in a 2021 survey. So that’s next summer for a 2022 fishery and it is not unlikely.” Fishing updates Salmon fisheries are popping open across the state but catches are barely registering so far. At Copper River, after four dismal fishing periods since mid-May, managers have officially called it a bust with low catches of sockeyes and kings at 69,000 and 4,000 respectively. “Most likely our next fishing period for sockeye will be in May 2021,” said Bill Webber of Paradigm Seafoods as he headed west to “the only game in town”: the Prince William Sound gillnet fisheries. Meanwhile, the reduced Copper River catch fetched record prices for its first delivery of salted sockeye salmon roe. A batch of 36 boxes (11 pounds per box) sold on June 6 for between $47.75 to $51.43 per pound at Sendai Market depending on grade, reported SeafoodNews.com. That’s 36 percent higher than last year. “Under the coronavirus situation, I was prepared for zero arrival, but local packers, technicians, and workers have carried a big risk of life to process the salmon roe. The price is a celebration and appreciation for their work,” a Sendai spokesman said. “In the midst of coronavirus pandemic, the demand for salted salmon roe for home consumption has increased and the carryover inventory from the previous season has already sold out. The sales environment is not bad, and we can expect good sales once the quantity and price become stable,” he added with an eye towards Bristol Bay. Elsewhere, Kodiak crabbers were still pulling up Dungeness crab although prices had reportedly dropped by more than a dollar from last year’s average of $2.65 per pound. That had several crabbers selling Tanners direct from the docks at $10 a pop. Southeast Alaska’s summer Dungeness fishery opens on June 15. Last year’s catch of 4.2 million pounds was the best in a decade for 200 permit holders and combined summer and fall openers set a record for fishermen at $16.3 million. Norton Sound opened for red king crab on June 15 for a 150,000-pound fishery; more will be taken during the winter season. A 5,000-ton herring food and bait fishery also is underway through June near Shaktoolik at Norton Sound. A lingcod fishery is ongoing in parts of Southeast and divers are still bringing up geoduck clams. A spawn-on-kelp fishery at Craig and Klawok yielded nearly 600,000 pounds of product for 147-pounders, the highest ever numbers for both. They won’t know the value of the unique delicacy until the fall. Halibut landings were approaching 5 million pounds out of a nearly 17 million-pound catch limit with Homer, Sitka and Kodiak the top ports for deliveries. For sablefish, the catch was pushing 10 million pounds out of a 32 million-pound quota. Sitka was way ahead of all other ports for landings followed by Kodiak and Cordova. Out in the Bering Sea, the nation’s largest food fishery — Alaska pollock — reopened for the “B” season on June 10. Fishing for cod also reopened in the Bering Sea that same day. Marine economy outpaces others A first ever analysis has measured the economic force of the nation’s marine economy, including contributions from recreation, commercial fishing, shipbuilding, seaports, beachfront hotels and other activities dependent on the oceans. A team from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Economic Analysis looked at 10 business sectors that work on the nation’s oceans, coasts and Great Lakes between the years 2014 and 2018. Their report shows that the marine-related gross domestic product grew 5.8 percent from 2017 to 2018, and outpaced growth of the overall national economy over the five years of the study. The “ocean economy” contributed nearly $373 billion to the nation’s GDP in 2018 and “blue” businesses supported 2.3 million jobs. In announcing the report last week, NOAA said: “The statistics clarify just how dependent America is on our waters,” adding, “It is nearly impossible for most Americans to go a single day without eating, wearing or using products that come from or through our coastal communities.” Tourism and recreation, including sport fishing, topped the list of GDP contributors at $143 billion, followed distantly by national defense and offshore minerals. Commercial fishing and aquaculture ranked fifth at $13 billion to the GDP. Power generation, and research and education contributed a paltry $4 billion and $3 billion, respectively. Marine industries “poised for growth” include offshore wind energy, marine robotics, aquaculture and ocean pharmaceuticals, NOAA said. Now, for the first time, the US has ocean data that can be compared with statistics on other U.S. industries and with the ocean economies of other nations, a BEA spokesperson said, adding that “businesses, policymakers, and coastal communities can use the data as a compass as they chart the way forward.” The current report ranks sectors making the largest contributions to the nation’s gross domestic product: • Tourism and recreation, including recreational fishing ($143 billion) • National defense and public administration ($124 billion) • Offshore minerals ($49 billion) • Transportation and warehousing ($25 billion) • Living resources, including commercial fishing and aquaculture ($13 billion) • Ship and boat building ($9 billion) • Power generation ($4 billion) • Research and education ($3 billion) • Construction ($2.5 billion) • Professional and technical services ($31 million) Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Crucial fish surveys curtailed by COVID-19 precautions

Surveys of Alaska’s fish, crab and halibut stocks in the Bering Sea have been called off or reduced due to constraints and dangers posed by the coronavirus. In what they called an “unprecedented” move, NOAA Fisheries announced in late May that five Alaska surveys will be cancelled this summer “due to the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unique challenges those are creating for the agency.” NOAA said in a statement that they found “no way to move forward with a survey plan that effectively minimizes risks to staff, crew, and the communities associated with the surveys.” The annual surveys are the cornerstone of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries management and provide data on how fish stocks are trending, where they are and, ultimately, how much will be allowed for harvest each year. The cancellations include bottom trawl surveys at the Aleutian Islands, the eastern Bering Sea and the northern Bering Sea, the Bering Sea pollock acoustics survey, and the fall ecosystem survey. To reassure stakeholders, NOAA said “we are fortunate to be working in a robust management system with a long time series of fisheries and ecosystem data and stock assessment models which helps ensure there is limited conservation impact from the loss of survey data this year.” The agency also plans to use three wind-powered Saildrones equipped with echosounders to survey Alaska pollock stocks, which over 60 days will cover nearly the same area done by research vessels. NOAA also will gather data from state and industry partners and from fisheries observers. That’s small comfort to some, notably, fishing towns that count on cod. The Gulf of Alaska cod fishery was closed this year due to a collapse of the stocks from extremely warm water temperatures over several years that killed off two age classes. “We are concerned that with no surveys, the stock assessment will remain status quo and the GOA Pacific cod federal fishery will again be closed for 2021,” Alvin Osterback, mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, wrote in a letter to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the stocks from three to 200 miles offshore. Likewise, Bering Sea crabbers are feeling uneasy. While they “understand the constraints the agency is under given this pandemic,” crabbers worry the lack of surveys could result in more conservative catch levels. “We’re very disappointed and concerned given the status of many of our crab stocks,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group. “Our bairdi Tanner fishery was closed this past year and our red crab fishery is approaching thresholds of closing. We rely on having a survey every year.” The complex process of setting crab harvest limits already includes a myriad of built-in protection buffers, Goen said, and the lack of one data point should not add more. Goen credited NOAA’s “crab team” for working closely with the industry and said ABSC already is looking towards next year. “How can we start planning now so that this doesn’t happen again if we’re still under the same restraints with a pandemic?” Goen asked. “Generally, the government only allocates survey money for one year. Can they guarantee that we’ll have that money next year? What if there’s constraints on government staff? One of the things we can do in advance is a lot more planning for next season.” “We all need to be understanding that the whole world is adjusting to a different situation right now,” Goen added. “Our fishing industries in Alaska are suffering and it’s a lot more expensive and stressful just getting our operations out the door. We’ve all got to roll up our sleeves and help each other out and find solutions to make sure we can continue to put food on people’s tables.” Halibut surveys reduced Similarly, the annual survey of the Pacific halibut stock also will have a “reduced footprint” this summer. A total of 898 stations will be surveyed, down 385, or 30 percent, from the originally planned 1,283 stations “as a result of the impacts and restrictions that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our field operational capacity and concern for our fishing communities coastwide,” according to a May 29 announcement by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. There are a total of 1,890 set line halibut survey stations ranging from the west coast states and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea, and typically 1,100 to 1,200 are assessed each year, said IPHC Executive Director David Wilson. About 17 longline vessels are usually contracted to conduct the surveys; this year 11 boats will participate. The survey duration also is reduced to July 1 through Aug. 31, instead of starting in June. The areas that will forego surveys this summer include waters off California, Oregon and Washington. For Alaska, areas 4CDE in the Bering Sea near the Pribilof Islands were cut, along with Areas 4A and 4B of the Aleutian Islands near Unalaska and Adak. “We also thinned out a little bit in 3B, the Western Gulf of Alaska, and we also removed the stations off Vancouver Island,” Wilson explained. He added that low halibut prices also affected their decision to reduce stations. The fish caught are sold to cover the costs of the surveys. “We’re looking at getting paid about 25 percent to 30 percent, less than in 2019,” Wilson said. Wilson agreed that when annual survey data is missing, it increases the level of uncertainty in stock assessments. But the IPHC believes it is acceptable for one year, Wilson said, adding, “we don’t have to sample every station every year.” “We’re going to maintain sampling in the core regions where about 74 percent of the known distribution and biomass of the halibut stock resides. So it’s still going to be a robust survey,” Wilson said. “The other thing to note is that we do this on an annual basis, and I don’t think there are any other surveys of this nature on this scale which then feed into annual stock assessments. We actually ran the scenario of what happens if we don’t survey this year at all and we would still feel confident that we would have very robust estimates of spawning stock biomass and mortality limits (catch limits) for 2021.” Free salmon updates More Alaska salmon fisheries are opening up around the state and weekly updates track catches and trends in every region. “We email them out at the beginning of every week that cover the prior week’s salmon harvests statewide, broken out by region,” said Garrett Evridge, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Anchorage. “The goal is to provide context for what our state is harvesting relative to the prior year and historical averages and to highlight interesting things that are happening in near real time throughout the salmon season.” His team compiles the weekly salmon send outs under contract with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and they work closely with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game to get the weekly numbers out as quickly as possible. “Over the last few years, we’ve narrowed the delay from about a week to 10 days to just a few days,” Evridge said. “Fisheries are happening statewide that conclude on the weekend and by Monday and Tuesday, we’re getting that information out to everybody. So it’s near real time.” Sign up for the free weekly salmon updates at [email protected] Fish subscriptions and feeding the needy Alaskans Own, the state’s first ever Community Supported Fishery, or CSF, is celebrating 11 years of its subscription service to seafood lovers. “A Community Supported Fishery project relies on forward funding from subscribers who pay in the beginning of the season and then receive fish on a regular basis, in our case, it’s once a month,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Up to 80 local boats supply a mix of salmon, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, sablefish and more to the program. “And the idea behind it is that consumers are getting to support the small scale, community-based fishermen who are bringing them the highest quality product, and we’re keeping more of that great Alaska seafood in Alaska,” Behnken added. Just 1 percent of Alaska’s billions of pounds of seafood remains in-state, and while many of their nearly 300 subscribers are from the Lower 48, Behnken says Alaska residents make up a good chunk of supporters. Subscribers also get seafood cooking lessons via Zoom. “Most people in this country eat seafood more at restaurants than anywhere else, and many people still are daunted by cooking seafood at home,” Behnken said. “So, one of the benefits we offer to our customers is that after they get their fish, a chef will make dinner with them through Zoom.” All CSF proceeds fund ALFA’s Fisheries Conservation Network in which fishermen and scientists partner on projects like mapping bycatch hotspots, testing electronic monitoring, fuel efficiency projects and strategies to avoid longline predation by sperm whales. Shortly after the coronavirus hit, Alaskans Own also started working with the Seafood Producers Cooperative and Sitka Sound Seafoods to donate fish to needy families. “We’ve set up a system where people can contribute to support the cost of processing, the cost of delivery and the fish is donated,” Behnken said. “We’ve been supported by the Sitka Legacy Fund, Silver Bay Seafoods, Slow Fish, along with 25 individual donors.” More than 800 pounds have been delivered to local families so far and Behnken said the donations will continue into the fall. Learn more at alaskansown.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Grundens partners with Alaskans for recycled net fishing gear

Recycled fishing nets from Cordova will soon help launch a new clothing line by Grundens, the maker of the iconic foul weather gear “built by fishermen for fishermen for over a century.” The Copper River Watershed Project is “refreshing” its net recycling program underway for a decade that’s been backed by the Pacific Marine States Commission. Now, the program wants to broaden its base and stand on its own, said operations manager Shae Bowman. “The vision with a new program is to create a self-sustaining recycling program that is a valued asset to the commercial fishing fleet. We also want to provide a high quality product to recyclers. And we don’t want to have to be constantly chasing down grants and sources of funding,” Bowman said, adding that the project has recycled more than 200,000 pounds over 10 years. Enter Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem, who since 2015 has jumpstarted net recycling programs across Alaska. Her work so far has included gathering and shipping primarily plastic trawl nets to Europe where they are recycled into pellets for sale to makers of a myriad of products from skateboards to cellphone covers. “I think the gillnet fleet is pretty dialed in, but seines are made out of the same type of plastic that gillnets are, so those two gear types can be recycled together,” Baker said. A goal is to fill a 40-foot shipping container this summer. But changes in the recycling market mean that unlike before, the nets must be clean and stripped before drop off. “You have to collect a really high quality product that somebody wants to buy,” Bowman explained. “We don’t want to collect something that’s full of garbage and that’s the problem we’ve been struggling with. I really want to get the word out that we need to recycle nets better. Our nets coming in need to be clean and stripped of any non-nylon material; that’s the cork lines, the lead lines, the hanging twine, all that needs to be removed to increase our quality.” European recyclers will turn the Cordova nets not into pellets for making other plastics, but yarn for clothing. Enter Grundens. “Our statement as a brand is ‘we are fishing,’” said Mat Jackson, Grundens chief marketing officer. “We believe it’s really important to use our brand voice and strength to help protect and maintain healthy marine environments and to lend a hand where we can. But at some point, you’ve got to just start doing it and making the process happen. And when talking with Nicole, Cordova became something that seemed like a tangible opportunity.” Jackson said the net recycling project also dovetails nicely with Grundens new clothing line. “In 2021 we are launching a full line of products from technical outerwear to more lifestyle casual items like shorts built out of “Econyl” regenerated nylon, which is largely comprised of recycled fishing nets and has been a main source that Nicole has been pursuing in terms of shipping this gear out of Alaska and into a recycler supply chain,” Jackson said, adding that he believes it is “a really powerful package.” “Our consumer base is commercial fishermen, but it also includes recreational fishermen and delivering them a product that fits their needs, performs at a high level, and is built from recycled material that our core customer uses to make a living, we just feel is an incredibly powerful message to help put the spotlight on these efforts and hopefully build a coalition around this process,” Jackson said. “Because it’s going to take more than just our brand getting involved. This really has to become an effort that the whole industry starts to embrace.” Bowman agrees. “My big hope,” she said, “is that if we can get this program to work out, it can serve as a model for other commercial fishing communities in Alaska as they look into setting up a recycling program. Seafood Council redux “Got Milk?” … “Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner!” … “Pork – The Other White Meat” … “The Incredible, Edible Egg” … those are familiar brand slogans, all backed by the producers who pitch their products with a unified voice. From livestock to fruits and dairy, most U.S. food makers have some sort of national marketing board supported by federal and industry dollars to promote their products. Seafood could soon be among them. Reviving a dormant National Seafood Council is gaining steam among industry members, especially as Covid-19 upends markets. About a year ago, Seafood Source reports that the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee brought up the idea to restart the council. MAFAC is a federal advisory committee to the Secretary of Commerce and NOAA Fisheries. Since then, the idea has met with lots of enthusiasm, and MAFAC has formed an 11-member task force to move forward. A National Seafood Council was created by the U.S. Fish and Seafood Promotion Act in 1987. It operated for five years before running out of money and becoming quietly defunct. MAFAC members agreed that if any food could now benefit from more consumer education, it’s seafood. A National Seafood Council could help with marketing, research, and educational awareness for all U.S. fish and shellfish products, both farmed and wild. It also could improve consumer confidence by allaying concerns about seafood safety and sustainability, and highlighting its many proven health benefits. The MAFAC committee’s first task is to define what direction a promotional council could take. Another is checking the language in the 1987 Act to make sure it is meeting the needs of today. The core mission would be simple: to get Americans to buy and eat more seafood. Patron saint of salmon As Alaska’s salmon season gets underway, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the patron saint of salmon: Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born long ago in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his sainthood 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 favorite 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. In her misery, the queen beseeched the priest Kentigern to help her. Kentigern took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river and quickly caught a salmon. Amazingly, upon cutting it open 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 Kentigern’s figure and symbols, including a 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. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fishermen weigh in on best coronavirus relief ideas

A rapid response by nearly 800 Alaska fishermen will provide a guideline for giving them a hand up as the coronavirus swamps their operations. An online survey from April 14 to May 3 by Juneau-based nonprofit SalmonState asked fishermen about their primary concerns both before the COVID-19 outbreak and in the midst of the pandemic in April. It also asked what elected officials at local, state and federal levels can do to help them directly. More than half of the 817 responses came in over four days, said SalmonState communications adviser Tyson Fick. “Clearly, people were interested to have their stories heard and to weigh in. In several ways we feel like we had a very broad swath of regions and gear types and fishermen,” he said. A total of 779 responses (95 percent) were accepted of which 50 percent were Alaska residents, 28 percent were from the Lower 48, and 22 percent did not provide resident information. Nearly 95 percent said they participate in a salmon fishery, with the majority fishing for both salmon and a mix of nearly all other species commercially harvested in Alaska. Some takeaways: Prior to COVID-19, the top three concerns among fishermen were fish prices (65 percent), the Pebble mine (60 percent), and climate change (53 percent). After COVID-19 hit, concerns shifted to loss of income (75 percent), preventing the spread in coastal communities (69 percent), and bad policy decisions being made while fishermen are distracted (58 percent). Fishermen are combatting the negative impacts by using a combination of strategies while doing more work with less time and resources. More than half said they would look for non-fishing related work, 27 percent said they would fish a longer season, and 26 percent plan to fish with fewer crew. Nearly a quarter expect to venture into direct marketing or increase dock sales. Just more than 4 percent said they would sell their fishing businesses. By far, affected fishermen said giving them direct payments from emergency relief funds would be the biggest help (82.7 percent). The second- and third-most popular options were favorable debt consolidation opportunities (33.2 percent) and debt forgiveness (28.6 percent). Fishermen provided thoughtful responses when asked about actions of policy makers that revealed several themes. At both the congressional and state levels, stopping the Pebble mine was the most frequent request, at 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively; keeping fisheries open also was a top issue. For Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Alaska Legislature, respondents said they should focus on COVID-19-related health and safety support for fishermen and provide help with marketing. Fishermen also shared their perceptions of the Dunleavy administration, saying it favors other interests over commercial fishermen, naming mining, oil and gas, and sport and personal use fishing. At the local level, fishermen expressed confusion over unclear guidelines for following local health mandates and suggested that signs at airports and boatyards along with a one-page guidance document would be helpful. They also mentioned that local communities should do all they can to support processors and their workforce. Fishermen also shared ideas on local taxes and harbor fees, and changing infrastructure to include things like cold storages in recognition of dynamic market patterns. Less than half of the fishermen respondents are members of a commercial fishing organization or trade association and the survey brings their voices into the conversation, said Fick. “These are frontline workers, small business owners who are pretty tight lipped and they don’t have fancy spokespersons or lobbyists speaking on their behalf. So they often just get left out,” he added. The goal now is to get the goods into the hands of those making the decisions on how COVID-19 relief funds are spent and invested. “Our commitment was to help get these results to decision makers on behalf of fishermen,” said SalmonState campaign strategist Lindsey Bloom. “We will do our best to get the information out as far as wide as possible for the fleet.” The fishermen’s survey is a project of the group’s Salmon Habitat Information Program. Find it at www.alaskasalmonhabitat.org Kelp farms sprout Interest continues to grow for startups of shellfish and seaweed farms, and in more remote regions of Alaska. Eighteen growers put in applications for new or modified farms in the 2020 time slot that runs from January through April, an increase of three from last year. Fifteen plan to grow kelp only, two aim to grow oysters, and one will farm kelp and geoduck clams. Most of Alaska’s growing operations occur in Southeast, near Homer and at Prince William Sound, but the trend is heading west, said Karen Cougan, Aquatic Farming Program Coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, which leases the farm tidelands. Kodiak pioneered the first kelp harvests in 2017 and could soon have more than five farms operating around the island, including one by the Afognak Corp. Sand Point is the first to grow kelp on the Alaska Peninsula, and this year an application came in from Adak. In all, Alaska has 70 open farm permits, which include eight with nurseries and five hatcheries to provide seed stock to aquatic farmers. In 2019, Pacific oysters were the biggest crop, making up 95 percent of sales of $1.5 million, up slightly from the 10 year average. For sugar and ribbon kelp, a crop of 112,000 pounds — up from about 17,000 pounds two years ago — was valued at $60,000. The advantage of kelp is the short grow-out time, said Flip Pryor, Aquaculture Section Chief for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which issues the permits. “While interest is high, kelp farming production is just starting to come online,” Pryor said. “The growing process is pretty straight forward, but it sometimes takes a couple of tries to work the proverbial bugs out of each farm site. I expect to see that value increase significantly in the next couple of years.” Alaska’s mariculture task force predicts a $100 million industry by the year 2040. Halibut scholarships High school students who feel a special pull for halibut might merit a scholarship to a university or technical college. Every two years the International Pacific Halibut Commission funds several $4,000 scholarships to U.S. and Canadian students connected to the halibut fishery. The IPHC and its scientists have been stewards of the Pacific stock from British Columbia to the Bering Sea since 1923. “If I was to highlight some of the candidates who’ve been successful in receiving the scholarship, it’s been those who are dependents of active fishers within the directed Pacific halibut fleets, but we will certainly consider others if they are involved in charter or recreational fishing,” said IPHC executive director David Wilson. “We look at candidates from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, and somebody who expresses the desire or is more likely to come back to the industry postgraduate.” The scholarships are renewable annually for the normal four-year period of undergraduate education. The IPHC also offers other outreach teaching tools for all school ages. An Ocean Literacy Program package is downloadable, including lesson plans. And the colorful Flat or Fiction booklet is a keeper for any halibut lover! For example, did you know that the treaty that formed the IPHC was the first international treaty in the world for the protection of a marine resource? Back to the halibut scholarships: they will be available for school entrance or continuation this fall. Deadline to apply is June 30. Find applications at the IPHC website under opportunities. Questions? Contact [email protected] or 206-634-1838. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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