Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Study takes aim at magnetic fields, salmon returns

Is it a coincidence that one of the world’s largest mineral deposits is located near the world’s largest sockeye salmon spawning grounds at Bristol Bay? And if the likes of a Pebble mine removed the bulk of those deep deposits that also create the world’s magnetic field, could it disrupt the salmon’s ability to find their way home? A study, funded by Arron Kallenberg of Homer, founder/CEO of Wild Alaskan Company and a third generation Bristol Bay fisherman, aims to find out. “It’s not even been 10 years since we’ve discovered that salmon, sea turtles and other marine species are using the Earth’s magnetic field as a way to know where they are and to make important navigation decisions. But what is the magnetic environment that they need to thrive, and what might humans be doing that might keep them from thriving,” said Dr. Nathan Putman, a senior scientist at Texas-based LGL Ecological Research Associates and an expert on animals’ use of magnetics fields in migration who is leading the study. “The salmon at Bristol Bay are tuned into thousands of years of experience,” Putman said. “Might removing magnetic minerals alter the magnetic landscape they have experienced, and to what extent?” The combinations of magnetic field strength and angles give the salmon a sense of where they are, he explained. “For instance, if a fish has left its river and finds itself in a stronger magnetic field than when it departed, it’s got a good chance of being further north of the river. And if it finds itself in a weaker magnetic field, it has a good chance of being further south. It can use that information to decide which way it should go, depending on whether it’s heading out to its foraging grounds, or if it’s matured and it’s time to head back home.” Putman’s earlier studies on pinks revealed that salmon have multi-purpose navigational tools. “The handy thing about the magnetic field is that it’s both a compass and a map. A compass by itself only gives you a direction. The Earth’s magnetic field gives you that direction, but for salmon it also gives a sense of where in the Bering Sea or the Gulf of Alaska they are. It’s sort of part compass, part GPS,” he explained. Putman said it is easy to manipulate magnetic environments in the lab. “We call them magnetic displacement experiments,” he said. “And they perform quite well. The salmon seem to know how to orient their movements when they grow up in a pristine magnetic rearing environment. But if you add something as simple as a nearby iron pipe, it distorts the field. Then you have the same family of fish, the same setup, the same sort of behavioral assays and they don’t appear capable of using the magnetic field to make navigation decisions.” For the Bristol Bay project Putman is using a high-resolution magnetic model for 304,000 latitude/longitude points over the past 20 years, looking at the impact of mining activity on fluctuations in local geomagnetic fields. By comparing the rate of change in the geomagnetic field near mining sites to baseline background variability, he can identify potential man-made impacts of mineral extraction on field variations. “I think it really does put some burden back on us as humans to ask how we are altering the magnetic environment around salmon, whether it’s from mineral extraction or electric cables running across or through streams. How might we be presenting salmon or other species with challenges from how we’re manipulating their habitats. That’s where we’re going with this project.” Putman’s results should be known by this summer when the sockeye run is returning to Bristol Bay. Fishing facts Want to know where most fishermen live in Alaska? Or where most Alaska fishing boats are home ported? United Fishermen of Alaska has just released its updated Fishing Facts for every region of Alaska, plus the West Coast. The facts are updated through 2018, the most complete year available. At a glance, they show that nearly 8,700 permit holders fished in 2018, or which 6,055 were Alaska residents. More than 21,341 crew licenses were purchased, split almost evenly between residents and non-residents. Alaska’s seafood industry employed nearly 59,000 direct jobs, more than any other private sector. More than $172 million in fishing taxes were collected, of which $73 million went to state coffers and $51 million to local governments. Homer is home to 615 fishing boats and nearly 20 percent of its population fishes, earning $69 million at the docks in 2018. A total of 636 vessels call Kodiak Island home with 1,074 resident fishermen, or 17.3 percent of the population, who earned $105 million. Kodiak lays claim to 15 processing facilities, from ‘mom and pops’ to majors. At Petersburg, nearly 24 percent of the population fishes for a living on 620 home-ported boats. Their income was pegged at $50.5 million. Only nine permit holders fished out of Dutch Harbor/Unalaska but its 8 big processing plants helped generate $8.2 million in fishery taxes, both to the region and the state. Just more than 6,000 Washington residents plus crew fished in Alaska in 2018. Of the total harvest of 5.7 billion pounds, 4 billion pounds was taken by Washington residents. Of the dockside value of $1.94 billion, Washingtonians pocketed $900 million. The Fishing Facts include regional fishing, processing jobs and wages, fishery tax revenues and legislative districts. Big fish moves The 30 coastal communities that comprise the Coastal Villages Region Fund and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. have bought out Seattle-based Mariner Companies that is majority-owned by Kevin Kaldestad and Gordon Kristjanson. The purchase comes with 3 percent of the Bering Sea snow crab and red king crab quota, along with 7 crab vessels. In a statement, the new company said it will sell the crab quota, valued at $35 million, to the communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Bristol Bay regions and provide economic support through fishing operations. Also, Peter Pan Seafoods, announced it is now a U.S.-owned, vertically integrated seafood processor. The company was owned since 1950 by Maruha Nichiro of Japan. The new ownership group includes Rodger May of Northwest Fish Company, the Na’-Nuk Investment Fund managed by McKinley Capital, and the RRG Global Partners Fund. New Peter Pan will continue to operate facilities in Dillingham, King Cove, Port Moller, and Valdez with headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. Fish trade tips Fishermen have until Jan. 15 to apply for federal funds to take the sting out of market hits from trade tariffs. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture will distribute a total of $530 million to fishermen based on their catches in 2019 for 19 species under the Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP). Damages to fishermen are calculated as the difference with trade tariffs and the baseline without it. For cod, that adds up to an extra 14-cents a pound. Salmon fishermen get an extra 19 cents per pound. Other Alaska species include Dungeness crab, king crab, snow crab and Tanners, geoduck clams, sablefish, herring, pollock, flounders, mackerel, perch and turbot. Fisherman must fill out form found at www.farmers.gov and at USDA Farm Service Agencies. There are three Alaska agency locations at Homer, Kenai and Palmer. Joint Fish and Game meeting on COVID-19 questions The Alaska Board of Fisheries and Board of Game will convene a web conference on Jan. 19 to discuss current COVID-19 conditions and its impacts on upcoming meetings. Tentative topics include conducting some or all of the meetings via the web, or if meetings should be postponed until the 2021-22 meeting cycle and what the impacts might be. This is a non-regulatory meeting and no testimony will be taken. Written comments may be submitted through Jan. 15; previously submitted comments will be included and need not be resubmitted. Comments can be or emailed to [email protected]/ The meeting will be live streamed at the Joint Board’s website. Questions? Contact the Boards Support Section at (907) 465-4110. Buts up Halibut catch limits for 2021 will be revealed on Jan. 29, the last day of the International Pacific Halibut Meetings that will convene virtually starting on Jan. 25. A preliminary review of the 2020 fishery shows a total catch for the U.S. and British Columbia at 35.7 million pounds, down 11 percent from 2019. Sixty-three percent was taken in commercial fisheries (22.3 million pounds). Alaska fishermen took nearly 16 million pounds, 7 percent below the catch limit. Recreational fisheries took 17 percent (6 million pounds); 3 percent went to both subsistence and surveys/research (one million pounds each). More than 5 million pounds of halibut was taken as bycatch in other fisheries. Homer got the biggest chunk of the Pacific halibut landings at 18 percent (3 million pounds), followed by Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Juneau at 1.3 million pounds narrowly outpaced Sitka for total commercial halibut landings. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fish picks and pans for 2020

This year marks the 30th year that the weekly Fish Factor column has appeared in newspapers across Alaska and nationally. Every year it features “picks and pans” for Alaska’s seafood industry — a no-holds-barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst fishing highlights, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year. Here are the choices for 2020, in no particular order: Best little known fish fact: Alaska’s commercial fisheries division also pays for the management of subsistence and personal use fisheries. Biggest fishing tragedy: The loss of five fishermen aboard the Scandies Rose that sank southwest of Kodiak. Biggest new business potential: Mariculture of seaweeds and shellfish Ballsiest fish move: Fishermen in Quinhagak formed a cooperative of 70 harvesters to revitalize commercial salmon fishing in Kuskokwim Bay, including members from Goodnews Bay, Platinum and Eek. It’s the first fishery since 2016 when the region’s “economic development” group abruptly pulled the plug on buying local fish. Biggest fish challenge: Getting whaled. Many fishermen say they can lose up to 75 percent of their pricey sablefish catches when whales strip their lines. Best fish invention: Slinky pots. Lightweight, collapsible, inexpensive fishing pots that prevent getting whaled. The new gear is especially beneficial for smaller boats that can’t accommodate the hydraulics and 300 rigid metal pots on deck. Biggest unexpected fish boost: As restaurants closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people turned to buying seafood to cook at home than ever before because of its health benefits. Best fish straight talker: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak Best fish knowledge builders: Alaska Sea Grant Best fish feeder: Sea Share, with more than 220 million fish servings to U.S. food banks since 1994 and counting. Trickiest fishing conundrum: Balancing sea otters versus crab and other shellfish fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Saddest fish story: The loss of young fishermen Sig and Helen Decker of Wrangell in a car crash. Biggest fish missed opportunity: Wasting most of Alaska’s annual three billion pounds of fish skins, heads, etc. that could be used in nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and more. Such byproducts could be worth $700 million or more to Alaska each year. Cod skins produce about 11 percent collagen, nearly 20 percent from salmon skins. The marine collagen market is pegged at nearly $1 billion by 2023. Most earth-friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into oils and meals instead of grinding and dumping them, as in most Alaska fishing towns. Best Alaska ocean watchers: Alaska Ocean Observing System. Sea ice, water temperatures, ocean acidification levels, AOOS tracks it all. Best daily fish news sites: SeafoodNews.com, Undercurrent News, SeafoodSource Best healthy fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, SalmonState, Alaska Marine Conservation Council Best fish mainstream pushers: Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers on its mission to make wild Alaska pollock the world’s favorite whitefish. Biggest fish budget suck: Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Fairbanks. How much budget would be saved if scientists/students didn’t have to travel to reach the sea life they are studying? Why are those sites located so far away? “It’s the way it has always been.” Best go to bat for their fishery: Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, The fishermen-funded/operated group pays a 1 percent tax on their catches. They can use the money in any way they choose to enhance/protect/promote their fishery. The Cordova/Prince William Sound RSDA is the only other region to take advantage of this opportunity sanctioned by the state in 2005. Biggest fish broadsides: Ongoing trade tariffs with China and now, the European Union Worst fish inequity: The U.S. buying millions of pound of seafood from Russia since 2014 while Russia refuses to buy any U.S. seafood. Best eco-friendly fish advocate: Net Your Problem by Nicole Baker. One woman’s quest to mobilize Alaska to remove old fishing nets, lines and gear has expanded from Dutch Harbor to Southeast and most places in between. The plastic gear is recycled into new products from sunglasses to snowboards. Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, aka “Frankenfish.” Best Alaska fish writers: Sarah Lapidus, Kodiak Daily Mirror; Elizabeth Earl, Alaska Journal of Commerce; Margie Bauman, Cordova Times, Fishermen’s News Worst fish travesty: Cuts to commercial and sport halibut catches while millions of pounds get dumped as bycatch in trawl fisheries. Alaska can’t lay claim to having the “world’s best managed fisheries” until it gets its bycatch act in order. Best fish assists: Biologists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Best building future fishermen: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Deckhand apprenticeships, fishing loan payback programs for new entrants based on catches are just a few of ALFA-spawned programs. Fishing town that celebrates its fishing industry the most: Sitka Fishing town that celebrates its fishing industry the least: Kodiak Best fish boosters: Alaska’s salmon hatcheries. Worst fish slap in the face: The state opting to close salmon fishing in federal waters of Cook Inlet. Alaska co-manages several fisheries with the feds but won’t in the Inlet? Biggest Alaska fish beneficiary: Washington State. Seattle is homeport to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their livings in Alaska. Worst fish flim-flam: The Pebble Partnership for its deceit to Alaskans, investors, Congress about the scope of its mining plans. Biggest fish sigh of relief: The Pebble mine permit being denied by the Army Corps of Engineers. Baddest fish idea: Opening the Tongass National Forest to more roads and development. The Tongass produces 80 percent of the salmon caught in Southeast Alaska. Biggest fish fake: Plant-based seafoods such as “vegan shrimp” and “Toona.” Does fish best with least: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI promotes Alaska seafood in the U.S. and around the world with zero backing from the state. Norway, for example, backs its seafood marketing with more than $50 million from a small tax on exports. Biggest fish stiff: Alaska processors paying millions in out of pocket expenses for COVID-19 quarantines in hotels, chartering planes, PPE, testing and other protections and getting no paybacks from federal relief funds. Biggest fish slap: Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s selection of Board of Fisheries reps who live far inland, including a Pebble mine director and one who has zero knowledge about commercial fisheries. Dunleavy hopes to ram them through with no legislative or public input. Best fish lifesavers: Alaska Marine Safety Education Association Most disliked fish moniker: The term ‘fisher’ in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to be gender neutral. Best new buy/sell fish better: The Seafood Auction based in Kenai gives fishermen, buyers and hatcheries an easier way to do business online from a single location. Worst fish crash: Collapse of the Gulf of Alaska cod fishery due to four years of warm waters that wiped out several years classes. The stock appears to be making a slow comeback. Best fish boost for babies: New federal dietary guidelines for the first time recommend that babies be introduced to seafood starting at six months because of the health benefits. Pregnant women also are strongly encouraged to eat more fish to enhance their baby’s brain and eye development. Biggest fish failure: U.S. baby food makers who provide ZERO seafood offerings. Best fish entrepreneurs: Zoi Maroudas of Bambino’s Baby Food (see above) – frozen portions of Hali-Halibut, Salmon Bisque, Sockeye Salmon Strips; Arron Kallenberg of Wild Alaskan Company. More than 140,000 members are serviced from fulfillment centers across the US. Most inexcusable fish gaffe: “Official” trade data from the U.S. Trade Representative that lists “petroleum and coal” as Alaska’s top export, although seafood has been tops for decades. Alaska’s “other top manufacturing exports” are listed as transportation equipment, computer and electronic products and machinery. Top agricultural products listed are plant and livestock products, feeds and other grains, beef and veal. Who knew?! Biggest fish story: for 2020 Alaska fishermen, processors, managers and communities pulled off a successful salmon season along with other fisheries amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ComFish Division spared from cuts in latest budget

As Alaska faces its toughest budget squeeze ever, the state’s commercial fisheries are set to get a bit of a breather. But it is due more to fund swapping than lawmakers’ largess. For the Commercial Fisheries Division, the largest within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget released by Gov. Mike Dunleavy reflects a slight increase to $72.8 million, compared to nearly $68 million last year. “I think we did really well this year,” said Commercial Fisheries Division Director Sam Rabung, speaking last week at a United Fishermen of Alaska webinar. “Where we’re at right now, the legislature actually restored many of the cuts that we sustained in FY20 and the governor didn’t veto all of them so we got some funds back in FY21.” “In a nutshell, we are being reduced $783,500 in general funds but to offset that, we are being granted $855,000 in increased authority for using what we call GFP, our general fund program receipts from commercial crew licenses,” he added. “We’ve been collecting more revenue from crew licenses every year than we have authority to use. It’s kind of like creating a piggy bank and it keeps building and that money rolls forward. We’re going to be able to utilize those funds now in lieu of general funds. So it’s pretty much a wash.” Rabung agreed with Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, that the comfish budget still includes big reductions that were made in prior years. “We’ve reduced our budget by around 45 percent of operational funding in the last six years or so. We were cut pretty harshly for several years, and now it’s kind of flattened out,” Rabung said. “I think what’s apparent is there’s not much left that has zero impact on commercial fisheries. So, when you talk about cutting the budget to the bone, we’re at the bone and our hope now is that we’ll be able to stay status quo and tread water and keep things where we can continue to manage for sustained yield.” There appears to be a shift over the last two years, Rabung said, and the Dunleavy administration now recognizes that “commercial fishing more than pays its own way.” “The revenue that comes into the general fund from commercial fishing activity is considerably more than the Commercial Fisheries Division draws back out to fund our operations. That was not apparent to this administration and many others in the past when they came in, but they get it now,” he said. “I think the next layer of that message is that not only does commercial fishing pay for its own self, it also pays for management of subsistence fisheries although we generate no revenue from those fisheries,” Rabung explained. “We also manage personal use fisheries in the state. Ironically, in order to participate in a personal use fishery, you have to buy a sport fishing license. So the Sport Fish Division gets the revenue from that, although commercial fishing does the assessment and management for it. Commercial fishing as an industry supports an awful lot of other activities and may not get the credit they deserve for it.” “And for some reason, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission is also parked under our budget even though we have no involvement and we’re totally separate. In my opinion, they should be a whole separate entity,” Rabung added. (The CFEC issues permits and vessel licenses in both limited and unlimited fisheries, and provides due process hearings and appeals.) The Commercial Fisheries Division, which employs about 650 people across the state, also permits and oversees Alaska’s non-profit salmon hatcheries, the aquatic shellfish and seaweed farming programs and operates three laboratories that track fish genetics, pathology, and ages of fish species. The division manages some fisheries in federal waters under authority delegated by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. And because fish are migratory and cross jurisdictional boundaries, staff also are involved in the research and policy making activities of the Pacific Salmon Commission, the Joint Canadian-U.S. Yukon River Panel and several other interstate and international fisheries bodies. Holiday fish boosts Along with the passage of the Young Fishermen’s Development Act last week, the seafood industry also got other boosts from Congress on several fronts. A $900 billion COVID-19 relief package also was passed by lawmakers in Washington and when it is signed by President Donald Trump, $300 million is earmarked to assist the fishing industry. Seafood also was finally declared as an eligible use for USDA food purchases for its many feeding programs; additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program also was included. The Save our Seas Act 2.0 was passed which builds on actions signed into law in 2018 to address marine debris problems. The bipartisan law, spearheaded by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, is regarded as the most comprehensive ocean cleanup legislation ever to pass Congress, and calls for global engagement to prevent plastic pollution. Save Our Seas will strengthen the U.S. response with a Marine Debris Foundation and a “genius prize” for innovation and new research. It also aims to enhance global engagement by formalizing U.S. policy on international cooperation and improving U.S. infrastructure to prevent marine debris through new studies of waste management and mitigation. The bill also proposes many efforts to improve U.S. waste management systems, particularly recycling infrastructure. For example, it creates a loan program for states to support trash wheel and litter trap technologies. Sullivan said in a statement that he already is looking to a third bill that would focus on how China processes U.S. recyclables. Finally, Democrats in Congress provided a first peek at the Magnuson-Stevens Act legislation they plan to introduce early next year. The MSA provides the “rules of the road” for U.S. fishery management and conservation. The reauthorized bill would maintain the eight regional fishery councils but require members to receive training on climate change and consider climate science in deliberations. Undercurrent News reports the bill also seeks to improve disaster relief programs, create a working waterfront grant program and increase support for seafood marketing, including re-establishing the National Seafood Council. It also would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NOAA to work together to increase seafood industry participation in the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Fish broth is a superfood Fish byproducts are rapidly growing in popularity and broths made from bones and other fish parts are becoming a rage among health enthusiasts all over the world. Bone broths are loaded with vital nutrients like calcium, iodine, and minerals and have been found to help support thyroid health. Its natural electrolytes boost muscle repair after workouts, but a top benefit is the benefits derived from collagen. “Collagen is good for your skin, your hair and bones. Some people claim that it restores gut health. Broth is a nutrient dense food that isn’t common in the standard American diet anymore,” said Randy Hartnell, founder and president of Vital Choice, a web-based seafood company. He said fish broth was common in our ancestral diet and is coming back due to trends favoring more healthy eating. “It’s sort of following the Paleo nutrition rage which has really been growing in recent years. We have seen many bone broth companies, but fish broths are not common yet so we are pleased to be able to offer it our customers,” Hartnell said. A handful of Alaska companies also are on the fish broth bandwagon. Rich Clarke, owner of Alaska Black Cod, makes his stock out of leftover sablefish carcasses. Ed’s Kasilof Seafoods features a halibut broth that was a winner at an Alaska Symphony of Seafoods competition. And Alaska Broth Company founder David Chessik hopes that one day his blend will be known as Alaska’s Coffee. Randy Hartnell pointed out another benefit to the growing popularity of fish broth: the reduction of fish waste. “The bones, carcasses and skins have always just been discarded,” he said. “This is a way to use some of those byproducts in a way that creates something that is so unique and healthy from sustainable fish from Alaska. It is another valuable aspect of this wonderful product.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Federal Pacific cod harvest to resume for Gulf in 2021

Alaska coastal communities will get a bit of an economic boost in 2021 from increased catches of Pacific cod. The stock, which crashed after a multi-year heat wave starting in 2014 wiped out several year classes, appears to be rebounding throughout the Gulf of Alaska. No cod fishery occurred at all this year in federally managed waters (from three to 200 miles out) where the bulk of the harvest is taken, and a catch of less than 6 million pounds was allowed in state managed waters (out to three miles). For 2021, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council set the federal cod catch at just more than 38 million pounds and nearly 11.7 million pounds for the state. While it’s a bump up, managers caution that the stock remains very low. “The state waters GHLs (guideline harvest levels) have gone up about two-and-a-half times since last year. While it’s good, we are still at a very low level of abundance, so that should be kept in mind,” said Nat Nichols, area groundfish manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. “The model for at least the last year or two have predicted that 2020 would be the low point in abundance and then, based on assumptions of average natural mortality and average recruitment, the stock would begin rebounding beginning in 2021. The model and other indices are still seeing rebounds in cod numbers, not large dramatic rebounds, but steady incremental growth, which is good,” he added. One reason cod numbers have ticked up, Nichols said, is because of the fishery reductions this year. “Just by the function of leaving many, many thousands of tons of cod in the water you get more cod in the assessment,” he said. The cod fishery in state waters is carved up based on the federal harvest guidelines for five regions: Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Chignik, Prince William Sound and the South Alaska Peninsula. That’s then broken up into shares for different fishing gears. “For the most part, it’s pot and jig gear with pot gear generally taking more. The one exception is Prince William Sound where they have a longline fishery,” Nichols said, adding that each fishery has opening dates ranging from Jan. 1 into March. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fishery managers are making efforts to streamline the process of registering for the cod fishery. Nichols encourages fishermen to contact the Kodiak ADFG office with any questions. (907-486-1840) In the Bering Sea, P-cod catches took a 21 percent cut to 245 million pounds. Likewise, the Bering Sea pollock catch for next year was reduced by 3.5 percent to three billion pounds. Gulf pollock catches were cut by 2.4 percent to about 250 million pounds.   More fishing updates for 2021 Other forecasts call for Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon harvest next summer to be “average” at 28 million fish. Kodiak’s pink catch is pegged at a strong 22.5 million and an “excellent” catch of nearly 13 million humpies is projected at the South Alaska Peninsula. Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is projected to produce a harvest of 47,348 tons, the highest since 1993. The fish are valued for their roe and it remains to be seen if there will be any buyers, as the product goes to a single market, Japan, where low interest has seen prices plummet to as little as $50 per ton. Meanwhile, trollers at Southeast Alaska are still out on the water pulling up chinook salmon. Beam trawl and pot shrimping continues at the Panhandle, along with diving for sea cucumbers (1.7 million pounds) and geoduck clams. Crabbing continues in the Bering Sea for golden kings and Tanners. Red king crab is about a wrap and fishing for snow crab will get underway next month. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set catch limits when it meets virtually the week of Jan. 25. The deadline for fishermen to apply for trade relief is extended to Jan. 15. That’s the program through USDA that pays extra poundage to make up for losses from ongoing trade disputes. More trade troubles More trade inequities will bite into Alaska salmon, crab and other seafood in the coming year. That’s alongside the ongoing 38 percent average tariff paid for most U.S. seafood exported to China. The newest hit is a 25 to 35 percent tariff imposed last month on $4 billion of U.S. goods, including salmon, that goes to the 27 countries that comprise the European Union. The dispute stems from a spat over U.S. subsidies being paid to Boeing and competing European Airbus aircraft. “It is going to have an effect on our ability to get wild salmon into the European Union. With that kind of tariff, it’s going to make it pretty darn tough,” said Allen Kimball, head of global and domestic sales for Trident Seafoods. In 2019, Alaska exported more than $30.4 million in frozen salmon fillets to the EU, said Dan Lesh, fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group. “Of that, $13.2 million went to the United Kingdom, which is withdrawing from the European Union and announced it will not include the punitive tariff,” Lesh said. “Smoked salmon exports also are subject to the additional tariff, but that is a minor export product to the EU27, $341,000 in 2019, he added. “Those are the only two Alaska seafood products subject to additional tariffs under this Boeing/Airbus dispute.” Also, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that its food embargo on U.S. goods will be extended through 2021, according to the Moscow Times. Russia stopped buying all foods from the U.S. and many other countries in 2014 over protests to its invasion of Ukraine. Since then, U.S. purchases of Russian seafood have continued to grow. In 2019, Russia exported more than 80 million pounds of seafood to the U.S. valued at nearly $700 million. Undercurrent News reports that is a 7.4 percent increase in volume and a nearly 20 percent increase in value over 2018. Most of the seafood is Russian-caught red king crab, snow crab and sockeye salmon. According to U.S. trade data, so far this year Russia has sent 1.3 million pounds of frozen red king crab to the U.S. valued at $268 million; 3.7 million pounds of frozen snow crab valued at more than $282 million; and more than 1 million pounds of sockeye salmon worth $3.4 million. All of the products enter the U.S. nearly duty free. Meanwhile, SeafoodNews.com reports that Russian crabbers are upping the ante claiming they plan to catch almost 220 million pounds of mostly king and snow crab in 2021. By comparison, Alaska’s Bering Sea catch for golden and red king crab, Tanners and snow crab for the 2020/21 season totals less than 50 million pounds. Fish give-backs American Seafoods has donated nearly $2 million since 1997 to over 100 Western Alaska communities to “make sure they benefit from the industry in their backyard.” The company maintains a fleet of six vessels that fish primarily for Alaska Pollock in the Bering Sea and hake in the North Pacific. “It started because we recognize that our livelihoods and what the company is trying to do is really based on cooperation from the local Alaska communities. And this is about us supporting those communities that are helping us do what we do,” said Margery Schelling, vice president of marketing, strategy and innovation. “It can be for food and fresh produce for shelter residents, safety equipment, or starting a food bank. We did a supportive pet companion program for senior citizens and individuals living with disabilities, even playground equipment. It’s really a grassroots program across Western Alaska supporting the needs of the community, as are recommended by the community,” Shelling explained. Calls for donations go out twice a year that each total $45,000. “As responsible citizens, supporting the well-being of Alaskan communities is a way of giving back. It’s as simple as that,” said American Seafoods president Inge Andreassen. Another company, Alaskan Leader Fisheries, since 2009 has granted nearly $600,000 to nonprofit groups in Kodiak and Bristol Bay through its foundation. The company was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families who operate four freezer longliners, and was joined by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in 2007. Grant recipients have included schools and educational programs, food banks, shelters, libraries, youth sports programs, museums, and recycling efforts. “Our most important resource in rural Alaska is our people,” said Robin Samuelsen, CEO of BBEDC. “Many community efforts to provide the best possible opportunities for our families require financial support that is often difficult to find. These Alaskan Leader Foundation grants help provide the hope and community interaction necessary in facing the challenge of life in rural Alaska.” Closer to shore, Sitka-based Alaskans Own has distributed more than 533,000 donated seafood meals (302,000 pounds) to more than 100,000 needy families throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest this year and plans to continue doing so. The donation program, an offshoot of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was initially launched in March to address the sharp rise in food insecurity among local families due to the Covid pandemic. The need was increased when dismal salmon runs to many regions left family freezers empty. “We honestly didn’t intend to create a seafood donation program this year,” said Alaskans Own founder and ALFA director, Linda Behnken. “It just organically happened when we realized that many of our neighbors were struggling to feed their families nutritious protein and our local fishermen were struggling to get a fair price for their catch due to COVID-19.” The mix of frozen/portioned salmon, halibut, rockfish and more is donated by too many fishermen, processors, and suppliers to mention. Ditto the number of individuals, businesses and community partners who stepped up to assist with distribution logistics, including the Chignik Intertribal Coalition and the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska. Alaskans Own is continuing its donations into 2021 and hopes to expand to more Alaskan communities. To help sustain the program, it’s offering a special Holiday Gift Box featuring a variety of local Sitka products. Check it out at www.alaskansown.com.

FISH FACTOR: Wild Alaskan making major gains through digital

The Wild Alaskan Company based in Homer has taken “mission based” seafood e-commerce to a whole new level. While many Alaska fishermen and groups sell boxes of seafood directly to customers and can claim several hundred monthly customers, Wild Alaskan has notched more than 140,000 seafood regulars since 2018 and since COVID-19 hit, the company is adding 100 to 200 customers every day. The average order for their subscription service is $160 per month. Founder Arron Kallenberg calls it a “three generation overnight success,” referring back to 1926 when his grandfather moved from New Jersey to fish at Bristol Bay. “My dad grew up fishing with my grandfather, I grew up fishing with my father, but that being said, I was the nerdy kid that took his laptop out to sea in Bristol Bay,” Kallenberg said, adding that his grandfather, Robert, served on the Alaska territorial Board of Fisheries, as an adviser to the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission and wrote his Master’s thesis at Cornell University on conserving Bristol Bay’s red salmon fishery. Arron Kallenberg went on to work in the internet startup field for nearly two decades, mostly in New York City. A few years ago he chose to walk away and create a tech-enabled marketing and logistics company to sell Alaska seafood directly to subscribers. He assembled a team of data driven strategists and systems builders to create a company that now puts 40 people to work remotely across the U.S. “We’re a tech company that sells seafood, a digital fishmonger,” he said with a laugh. “We have the ability through social media and digital based, data driven advertising to attract members to the membership service. And we have an incredible amount of proprietary software that manages a very complex, nationwide frozen fulfillment network that allows us to ship fish across the country at very reasonable rates. “So it was those two aspects of the business that did give the company quite a bit of early success. And then recently we’ve sort of reached critical mass.” Wild Alaskan sources salmon, cod, halibut, pollock and more from large and small Alaska providers, and the mix of frozen portions in three boxed options is dictated by supply. The seafood is sent to fulfillment centers across the country, and a software network manages the inventory and orders to minimize both cost and shipping distance. The reduced shipping time also allows the company to use biodegradable packaging instead of Styrofoam. “Our software has some pretty sophisticated technology that will curate a box of fish for a member in one part of the country based on the availability of certain species inside the supply chain. But the flexibility that the software provides us allows us to decentralize this supply driven model in different regions. That’s something that’s pretty unique from an e-commerce perspective. Typically, e-commerce companies will have to maintain the same level of inventory across one or two facilities,” Kallenberg said. Reducing the carbon footprint from shipping is a primary goal of what Kallenberg calls his “mission based company.” “Our goal is to expand our warehouse network to the point where we can achieve one-day ground transportation to 99 percent of the country,” Kallenberg said, adding that Alaskan Wild plans to open a fulfillment center in every major metropolitan U.S. area. “Our mission is to accelerate humanity’s transition to sustainable food systems,” he said. “And I believe that Alaska can set an example globally. In order to do that, Wild Alaskan has to become a big business so that we can shift the consumption habits away from these unsustainable options into America’s own backyard. The carbon footprint implications of fish going round trip to another country and back, or farmed salmon coming in from another country are ridiculous,” he said. Kallenberg believes the U.S. has “unknowingly downgraded its seafood supply” by importing up to 90 percent of its seafood, and exporting most of its own to other countries. “We export the best and import the worst,” he said. Wild Alaskan Company intends to change that pattern. Young fishermen get federal nod U.S. fishermen will soon be eligible to receive training and financial benefits long enjoyed by farmers and ranchers. The Young Fishermen’s Development Act sailed through Congress last week with a simple voice vote because of bipartisan support, according to REP. Don Young’s office. Modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that can be traced back to 1862, the Act creates the first federal program dedicated to enabling future generations of fishermen. This bill directs the National Sea Grant office under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a program through the Commerce Department that provides for a competitive grants program for state, tribal, local, or regional networks or partnerships; a mentorship/apprenticeship program with older fishermen; financial support for training and education in sustainable fishing practices, marine stewardship, business and technical initiatives. “We are thrilled,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in response to the bill’s passage. ALFA was part of a national Fishing Communities Coalition which helped herd the Act through Congress over two years. “Alaska’s congressional delegation played the lead role in advancing this legislation, building bi-partisan support for an important industry and Alaska’s number one private sector employer,” Behnken added. “We are celebrating a brighter future for our industry and our young fishermen. Huge thanks to Senator Sullivan, Senator Murkowski, Congressman Young and their hard working staff!” The $2 million program will be paid out over six years and is funded by fishing fines; so in a way, fishermen are picking up the tab themselves. By comparison, mandatory federal backing for ranchers and farmers (including aquaculture) is $15 million for this fiscal year, $17.5 million for fiscal year 22 and $25 million for fiscal year 23. Southeast does Dungies Panhandle crabbers pulled up their second best Dungeness catch ever in combined summer and fall fisheries. A fleet of 104 crabbers pulled up 790,000 pounds during the two-month fishery that ended on Nov. 30, down slightly from catches that typically are closer to one million pounds. Also down was the number of participants which usually approach 200, likely due to a low price. Selling the crab at the dock helped boost the price from $1.68 per pound paid during the summer fishery, said Adam Messmer, a shellfish manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Douglas. “There was definitely a few more boats selling off the dock which bumps the average price up a little bit. For the fall, we had $1.91 so it was up a bit from the summer,” he said. The average price for the 2019 season was $3.07 per pound for Dungeness, which weigh two pounds on average. Still, combined with the summer Dungeness fishery it adds up to a near record catch for 2020. “With the fall season, we’re at almost 6.7 million pounds which is the second highest on record,” Messmer said. Southeast’s highest Dungeness catch was 7.3 million pounds in 2002. The most valuable harvest was in 2019 at $16.3 million to fishermen on a 5.3 million pound harvest. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Empty freezers bode well for 2021 prices

A lack of fish in the freezers is an encouraging sign for Alaska salmon as we head into the new year, driven by increasing customer demand. But headwinds from trade disputes and the COVID-19 pandemic also loom large on the 2021 horizon. Those are some prime takeaways shared by Mark Palmer, president and CEO of OBI Seafoods, and Allen Kimball, vice president of global operations and sales for Trident Seafoods. “We don’t see entering the 2021 season with any real big carryovers. And that’s always one of the downsides as we head into a new season, if there’s an abundance of two- to four-(pound) sockeyes or something. We’ve gone into seasons like that and it influences the new season pricing. But as we go into 2021, we should have a pretty clean slate and be ready to buy and ideally put it up in a better product form than we did this last year,” said Palmer, speaking at a webinar hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska. The COVID-19 pandemic this year forced a shift from workers producing fresh salmon fillets to lower value canned and frozen fish when the labor force was reduced and costly restrictions were imposed on processing lines. Kimball added that while he was “a little more conservative,” his outlook was fairly optimistic. “We don’t have inventories around and we have good demand,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of adjustments and positive things in terms of the demand at retail and it’s going to continue. And if we get this food service piece back to full giddy up, I think it’s going to be quite good.” Nationally, people are buying more seafood at grocery stores than ever before, added Palmer. And while lower in value, all that pack put up by Alaska processors fits the bill. “The type of seafood they’re buying is more canned and frozen products and that’s where we’ve really seen some great market share gains,” he explained. “It’s probably one of the best times to be a frozen seller and to get new value added products in the market.” With COVID-19 crippling the food service sector, Palmer said farmed fish has flooded into retail outlets and forced a downward press on salmon prices. “These aquaculture produced salmon had a huge piece of the food service market and as that evaporated, they’re still pulling fish out of the water. We’ve watched that industry go after the retail market more aggressively than they ever have. They’ve got the fish and they’re going to find someplace to move it. We’ve watched prices go down, so we’re slugging it out every day to keep our products on the shelf,” he said. Roughly 75 percent of the world’s salmon is now farmed, added Kimball. But both men emphasized Alaska’s biggest market competition comes from Russia. “When we’re negotiating with some of our bigger export markets, whether it’s salmon or whitefish, all of these global markets influence that,” Palmer said. “For the last four years, Russia has had these huge production years on pink salmon and solid sockeye and chum production. That’s what’s really driven the market. Trying to put up product forms where we don’t have to directly compete against Russia has been important.” Both also bemoaned the trade imbalance that allows Russian-caught fish into U.S. markets while that country has not purchased a U.S. pound since 2014. “Russia has open access to our markets with no restrictions. I just don’t understand the fairness of this,” Palmer said. “We would rather just see open markets. We will compete against anyone, but if they’re not going to give us access to their market, they shouldn’t have unfettered access to ours.” “If we can’t sell our fish in Russia, they shouldn’t be able to sell their fish in the United States,” echoed Kimball. “I think that’s going to continue to be a battle. We’ll have to see with the next administration how that’s going to materialize. But I anticipate that we’re going to have to be at the table really early and carefully to make sure that we get our voices heard in this particular issue.” Both men said that dealing with trade wars and currency fluctuations over the past several years “has been a big nightmare.” Tariff activity since 2018 on various fish ranges between 35 percent and 45 percent going into China, Kimball said, and a new 35 percent tariff has been imposed on Alaska salmon going to Europe stemming from a government dispute over airplane subsidies. “It is going to have an effect on our ability to get wild salmon into the European Union. With that kind of tariff, it’s going to make it pretty darn tough,” said Kimball. “But I would say that with many of these tariff challenges, what we’ve seen in China and other countries, the dynamics of this could change. So we’re heavily working on this from a political position standpoint. But if this remains, there is no question it’s going to have a big influence on fish next year.” The ongoing influence of the COVID-19 pandemic also remains a question. Most seafood companies picked up the tab this year to charter planes to transport tens of thousands of processing workers, rent hotel rooms for 14-day quarantines, purchase testing and prevention equipment in costs not reimbursed by federal relief funds. More strict state requirements for preventive protocols are already extended into 2021. “In fact, they’ve been expanded,” said Kimball. “We are all working with the state on surveying our community work forces and factories at places that operate year round, and we have to go to continuous monitoring of our employees there, including testing. So the handling of the workforce is getting more expensive, not less, as we head into 2021. It’s just a big unknown at this point.” Share the Sea Two million pounds of seafood turns into 8 million meals at Feeding America food bank networks across the nation. That’s how much the Seattle-based nonprofit SeaShare has donated to Lower 48 states so far this year. Alaskans in dozens of remote communities also share in the seafood bounty. “I think we’re at 180,000 pounds which is over 720,000 servings this year, which is more than we normally do,” said SeaShare Executive Director Jim Harmon. SeaShare has positioned freezers full of fish in regional hubs at Juneau, Kodiak, Anchorage, the Mat-Su, Kenai, Dillingham and Kotzebue that allows distribution to remote communities. The program began in 1994 with bycatch donations from boats fishing the Bering Sea and has since expanded in the Gulf of Alaska to include 136 vessels, 12 shoreside processors, 34 catcher processors and three motherships. To date, it has delivered more than 220 million seafood servings of fish to U.S. food bank networks. SeaShare is the only group authorized to receive bycatch donations which today make up about 20 percent of the fish; the rest includes a wide array of smelt, halibut steaks, salmon burgers, breaded pollock portions and more, all processed and donated by seafood companies. “The nice thing is that the donations that the fishermen and processors make, it enables us to bring in other donations of freight, cold storage, packaging, and those things they wouldn’t be able to donate if we didn’t have the fish,” Harmon said. Good protein is the hardest item to source and the demand on food banks has soared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The clients that go to food banks have doubled this year. I believe 22 percent of Americans are accessing food banks and that’s unprecedented. That’s an incredible need,” Harmon said. With many federal and state relief programs set to expire at the end of December, pressure will grow as food banks struggle to keep up with. There are all kinds of restrictions in place and volunteers have really dropped off, which most food banks rely on to distribute the hand outs and segregate all the different donations that come in,” Harmon said. “It’s scary to think about. It’s going to come right after the holidays when those extra services run out.” Donations are more important than ever to fill the seafood pipeline. Harmon said every one dollar donated to SeaShare equals eight seafood servings to hungry Americans. www.seashare.org Fish skins cure Fish skins that help regenerate human tissue have garnered a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Defense Department to make them available to wounded soldiers. It’s the third grant the Icelandic company Kerecis has received from the Defense Department’s Combat Casualty Care Research Program (JPC-6). Kerecis has pioneered and patented the omega 3 fish skins that need minimal processing and provide an infection barrier while enabling the body to regrow its own tissues. The skins already are used around the world in hospitals and by health care workers and consumers. Now, Kerecis will create field kits for use by the U.S. military. The company says it “harnesses nature’s own remedies,” in this case the Omega-3 fatty acids and collagen found in cod fish skins. And because no disease-transfer risk exists between cold-water fish and humans, the skins are ideal for treating soldiers in the field. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and supports everything from our skin and bones to our toenails, and marine collagen is the same kind. While the marine collagen market is pegged to reach nearly $1 billion by 2023, Alaska’s skins are still dumped as wastes. For Alaska pollock, with catch volumes averaging more than three billion pounds a year, that adds up to more than 1.4 million pounds of skins, assuming a five percent yield, according to economist Dan Lesh of McKinley Research Group (formerly McDowell Group). Pacific cod could produce nearly 1.4 million pounds of skins. The skin yield is in the 8 to 10 percent range for Alaska salmon. And they are loaded with healing goods: Studies show cod skins produce about 11 percent collagen and nearly 20 percent has been extracted from salmon skins. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Bambino’s launches Bristol Bay baby food

Frozen sockeye salmon strips bring tasty nutrition and relief to teething babies. The lightly seasoned salmon strips, made mostly from Bristol Bay reds, are the third product made by Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage that is aimed at getting more seafood into the mouths of babes. “I always kind of giggle because it’s not going to be just for the little ones. I’m sure mom and dad and elder brother or sister are going to be gnawing on those as well,” said Zoi Maroudas, Bambino’s founder and operator. “I also wanted to honor our indigenous families and traditions and share how natural, nutrient-rich omega strips can be so good for a little one to enjoy. Instead of a cookie or cracker, a frozen salmon strip.” “Seeing our community and friends near and far now having the option to find Pivsi (Inupiaq for “dried fish”) at Bambino’s is very exciting and a healthy new option for kiddos,” said Lars Nelson, president of TRIBN construction company at Utqiagvik, and parent of six. Maroudas, who was born in Greece and came to Alaska as a child (her family owns Pizza Olympia in Spenard), launched Bambino’s first seafood item, Hali-Halibut, in 2017 followed shortly after by a Sockeye Salmon Bisque. The pouched meals feature frozen, star-shaped portions that are perfect for baby-sized hands or for thawing into puree-style meals. Each contains “the perfect balance” of proteins, grains and vegetables for optimal nutritional content, she added. The baby seafood items are among 20 Alaska grown products that are made in Maroudas’ store and production facility in Anchorage. Bambino’s has resonated with some big names and won notable awards. Maroudas has been featured on the Today Show, Fox News, numerous magazines, by hip hop artist Uncle Murda, and she was personally honored by both Martha Stewart (she brought her sockeye salmon) and President Trump. The Bambino’s line also won the American Choice Award for Best Organic Brand and Alaska’s Top Manufacturer in 2019. Bambino’s is filling a void by America’s baby food makers who continue to completely snub seafood in their protein lines, despite its proven health benefits (they offer seafood items in Asia and Europe). And that is despite the fact that starting in 2021, new federal dietary guidelines go into effect that say along with eating two portions of seafood each week, fish should be included in babies’ diets starting at six months old. “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. 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,” said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics, chemistry and nutrition at the University of Texas and at Cornell University. Bambino’s is now shipped from Anchorage to customers in all 50 states and can be found at all Safeway/Carrs stores, Amazon and at Baby Vend machines at Alaska Airline terminals. Maroudas said she doesn’t strive to be the No. 1 baby food in sales; she aims to be the best on the market. Above all, she said feeding more children with the purest Alaska ingredients is her biggest reward. “It’s an absolute honor to represent our state for its quality, for its nutrition,” she said. “And working together with our farmers and our fishermen to create that beautiful plate as an extension of their home, for their families wherever they are, is the most humbling, most rewarding. And at nighttime. I pray that tomorrow’s even better for everyone around the world.” Up next for Bambino’s: an Alaska pollock product! Fishing updates Lots of fishing updates and wrapups continue across Alaska from Ketchikan to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. And lots of outlooks for next year’s fisheries are starting to trickle in from state and federal managers. The Pacific halibut fishery for this year, for example, ended on Nov. 15 and early estimates peg Alaska’s take at just less than 15 million pounds out of a 16 million-pound catch limit. Results from the yearly halibut survey have raised cautious hopes for a possible uptick in some fishing regions in 2021. “Pacific halibut appears to be holding its own, with an encouraging — if small — indication that overall weight of catch per unit of effort, a proxy for abundance, went up by 6 percent coastwide, reported Peggy Parker, executive director of the Halibut Association of North America. Catch per unit of effort, or CPUE, refers to a standard “skate” of gear that is 1,800 feet long bearing 100 hooks. Of note, the total weights per skate increased by 24 percent. Of note, the total weights per unit, or WPUE, increased by 24 percent in the Central Gulf, the largest halibut fishing hole. The other Alaska areas did not fare as well: the WPUE at Southeast was down 5 percent, the Western Gulf dropped 6 percent, at the Aleutians, weights were down 2 percent near Dutch Harbor but up 3 percent at Adak; and the Bering Sea fishing regions increased by 8 percent. Coastwide, the WPUEs were up 6 percent. The final halibut catch limits for next year will be revealed at the International Pacific Halibut Commission virtual meeting set for Jan. 25-29, 2021, and the fishery will open in March. The deadline to submit halibut regulatory proposals is Dec. 26. Homer held onto its title of America’s No. 1 halibut port for landings, followed by Kodiak and Juneau. Alaska’s sablefish fishery (black cod) also ended on Nov. 15 with 71 percent of its 31.7 million-pound quota crossing the docks. Kodiak, Seward and Sitka were the top ports for landings. Another blockbuster sockeye run is projected for Bristol Bay next summer, topping 51 million reds if projections by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hold true. That means the fishery will average over 48 million reds annually for the past 10 years. The 2021 forecast calls for a sockeye catch of 36.35 million fish. ADFG also is predicting an “average” pink salmon harvest for Southeast Alaska next year of 28 million fish, below the 10-year average of 34 million but better than the 2019 catch of 21 million. Meanwhile, Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter Chinook salmon. A few areas of the Panhandle remain open for pot shrimp and the harvest had reached 540,670 pounds. Divers also continue pulling up geoduck clams; they have also taken 1.2 million pounds of sea cucumbers out of a 1.7 million-pound catch limit. The region’s Dungeness fishery is ongoing through Nov. 30 and nearly 200 crabbers have landed 6.4 million pounds in the combined summer and fall fisheries. A sea cucumber fishery at Kodiak and the westward region has a small quota of 165,000 pounds. A herring food and bait fishery opened on Nov. 14 at Kodiak with a 319-ton limit. The nation’s biggest fishery — Alaska pollock — just wrapped up in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska until Jan. 20, producing more than 3 billion pounds of the popular whitefish. Cod fishing is mostly over for the year except for a small reopener in the Gulf on Nov. 23 for pot or jig boats. Other boats also continue to target various rockfish and flounders. Catches for 2021 Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fisheries will be revealed when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets virtually from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. Bering Sea crabbers have taken 99 percent of their 2.38 million-pound red king crab quota. They also are tapping on more than 2 million pounds of Tanners and more than 6 million pounds of golden king crab. Find links to Alaska fish catches at www.alaskafishradio.com Sea cuke cures Sea cucumbers have been considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine for centuries and also have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to help aid in many different health problems. In his book Cancer: Step Outside the Box, author Ty M. Bollinger calls the spiky, slug-like creates a miracle cure for cancer. “You can cook them for various dishes, but the way it’s found in local health food stores is dried and powdered and in capsule form,” he said, adding that dried sea cucumber extract is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and also has anti-inflammatory properties. “Another of the fascinating things about sea cucumbers is that they are very high in chondroitin sulfate, which is commonly used to treat joint pain and arthritis. To my knowledge, they have the highest concentration of chondroitin of any animal,” Bollinger said in an interview. While customers likely won’t see it on the labels, he added that powdered sea cucumbers also have many cancer curing abilities based on studies over the past 15 years. “Number one, it’s cytotoxic, which means it kills cancer cells, and it also is immunomodulatory. So it has both sides of what I call the cancer killing coin,” he explained. “If you are going to defeat cancer, you need something that regulates your immune system to where it works properly but you also must have something that is going to kill those cancer cells. The sea cucumber does both.” Sea cucumber extract also is used as an adjunct treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy, Bollinger said, because it’s very effective at mitigating the side effects of that cancer treatment. There are more than 1,250 species of sea cucumber in the world. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: 2020 state report sums up salmon returns, prices

Tamped down prices due to toppled markets caused by the COVID-19 virus combined with low salmon returns to many Alaska regions added up to reduced paychecks for fishermen and will mean lower tax revenues for fishing communities. A summary of the preliminary harvests and values by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows that Alaska’s total 2020 salmon catch came in at just less than 117 million fish, a 44 percent decrease from last season’s haul of 208.3 million fish, and the 13th-lowest on record. The statewide salmon value of $295.2 million is a whopping 56 percent decrease from 2019’s $673.4 million, and when adjusted for inflation, it is the lowest value since 2006. Sockeyes accounted for nearly 59 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value at $174.9 million and comprised 40 percent of the harvest at 46.1 million fish. Pinks accounted for 51 percent of the statewide salmon harvest at 51.4 million and 21 percent of the value at $61.8 million. Regional tallies compared to the 2019 catches and values reveal a clearer picture of the economic hits, which are down by half or more across the board. At Southeast Alaska, 14.3 million salmon crossed the docks valued at just more than $50 million to fishermen. That compares to a catch of 32.2 million fish last year paying out at $101.8 million. Prince William Sound fishermen fetched $49.6 million for salmon catches totaling 25.5 million this year, down from 57.7 million fish valued at just less than $115 million last season. At Cook Inlet, a catch of 3.6 million salmon rang in at just more than $10 million, down by 4.3 million fish and $22.9 million, respectively. A huge haul of pinks pushed Kodiak’s salmon catch to over 24 million with a dockside value of $26.6 million. That’s well less than the value of $47 million last year on a harvest of 35.7 million fish. Chignik fishermen were beached all season for a fishery value of zero. That compares to 2019 values of 3.5 million sockeyes harvested, worth just more than $8 million. At Bristol Bay, a catch of just more than 40 million salmon was valued at $140.6 million to fishermen, down from 44.4 million fish and a record payday of $306.5 million in 2019. At the Alaska Peninsula, the salmon value came in at $16.6 million this summer on a harvest of 8.7 million fish, compared to $49 million on landings of nearly 27 million salmon last year. Fishermen on the Kuskowkim finally went fishing after being shut out since 2016 when the region’s “community development” non-profit abruptly pulled the plug on buying salmon. A newly formed Quinhagak co-op of four villages landed 197,365 salmon this summer (mostly sockeyes) worth $596,272. Salmon fishermen on the Yukon took under 19,000 fish of mostly chums, valued at $51,444 for a summer harvest only. That compares to 561,644 fish valued at over $2 million for summer and fall fisheries in 2019. At Norton Sound, only 50,679 salmon were caught this summer worth less than $300,000 to fishermen. That compares to 381,124 fish valued at more than $2 million last year. Kotzebue salmon fishermen landed 149,820 chums this summer for a payout of $542,306. Last year’s catch of 493,340 salmon was valued at more than $1.5 million. Looking at average salmon prices paid to fishermen compared to 2019: chinook averaged $5.07 per pound compared to $4.48, sockeyes averaged 76 cents, down from $1.45; cohos averaged $1.17, down just 2 cents per pound, the average pink price of 30 cents was the same as last year, and the average dock price for chums at 43 cents was a drop of 6 cents per pound from 2019. It’s important to note that the dollar values for all salmon catches are preliminary and do not include post-season price adjustments. Some 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. Halibut hauls Alaska’s eight-month Pacific halibut fishery ended on Nov. 15 and just a few days later, stakeholders will get an overview of the health of the stock and a glimpse at potential catches for next year. The total halibut catch limit for 2020, which includes Alaska, the West Coast states and British Columbia, totaled 35.5 million pounds. Alaska’s share was 17.1 million pounds, of which 93 percent (15.9 million pounds) was landed. A breakdown by the International Pacific Halibut Commission shows that 64 percent of the catch went to the commercial fishing sector, 17 percent to recreational users, 3 percent for subsistence users and 14 percent went to “non-directed fisheries,” meaning halibut caught and discarded as bycatch. Discarded halibut in 2020 is estimated at just more than 5 million pounds, down from 6.56 million in 2019, nearly all of which was taken in Alaska non-halibut fisheries (4.68 million pounds). Much more will be revealed at the Nov. 18-19 interim online meeting of the IPHC, which already has posted a plethora of documents for review. Of note are the results of the successful summer “Fishery-Independent Setline Survey” at 898 stations that indicates some hopeful upticks. “Available views allow users to interactively review the raw and adjusted (for hook competition and timing) results from 2020 and prior years with an ability to drill down and track differences among areas and across years,” said Dr. David Wilson, IPHC Executive Director. He noted the catch-per-unit-effort data (per hook) at: https://www.iphc.int/data/FISS-catch-per-unit-effort. Final halibut catch limits will be set at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 25-29, 2021, which also will be online due to COVID-19 concerns. The deadline to submit regulatory proposals is Dec. 26. Everything about Alaska fisheries This week features a virtual fish meeting lineup like never before. And while nothing can replace in-person gatherings, the online availabilities let many more people participate, and provides documents that remain available long after the meetings are done. The diverse topics provide an opportunity like never before for people to expand their knowledge and understanding of the seafood industry. United Fishermen of Alaska webinars run from Nov.16-20 starting on Monday with a Seafood Marketing Update, followed by the latest updates on ocean acidification. Tuesday features Bycatch Management in North Pacific Groundfish Fisheries, an Alaska Hatchery Update and an Update on Transboundary Mining Issues. On Wednesday, the UFA lineup includes Updates from the USCG and an ADF&G Update. Thursday features Get to Know the Alaska Board of Fisheries Members and Update on BOF Meeting Cycle and a Pebble Mine and Bristol Bay 2020 Recap. Friday wraps up the online offerings with a webinar called Get to Know Your Coastal Legislators. Find more information at www.ufafish.org/ Pacific Marine Expo virtual meetings, hosted by National Fisherman magazine, also take place from Nov. 17-19. Day One features Making Waves: Offshore Wind Power & Commercial Fishing, followed by Workforce Development: Resources and Partners. On Wednesday, a Maritime Economic Forecast Breakfast will focus on the upcoming year for the Port of Seattle and beyond, followed by a webinar on Vessel Design and Gear Technology and the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act: Funding Repower Partnerships for Commercial Fishing Businesses Day Three will feature a Fishing Industry Career Fair and an update on what’s next for the Pebble Mine. See the full line up at www.pacificmarineexpo.com/ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Labor Dept. report shows continuing decline in seafood jobs

The number of boots on deck in Alaska has declined and most fisheries have lost jobs over the past five years. Overall, Alaska’s harvesting sector ticked downward by 848 jobs from 2015 through 2019. A snapshot of fish harvesting jobs is featured in the November edition of Alaska Economic Trends by the state Department of Labor. The findings show that after hitting a peak of 8,501 harvesters in 2015, fishing jobs then fell to around 8,000 for the next two years before dropping again in 2018 to about 7,600. In 2019, average monthly fishing employment was 7,653 and the industry added just 33 fishing jobs all year, reflecting growth of about 0.4 percent. Estimated gross earnings in 2019 totaled more than $1.7 billion, of which only about $660 million went to permit holders who were Alaska residents; the bulk went to fishermen who call Washington home. Alaska’s salmon fisheries, which represent the most workers on deck, added 93 harvesters in 2019 but remained below the five-year average of 4,472 jobs. Crab harvesting followed a similar trend, gaining 26 jobs in 2019 but remaining less than the fishery’s five-year average by 21 jobs. That drop is the largest in percent terms by species since 2015, or a loss of nearly a quarter of that workforce. Halibut harvesting gained just three jobs last year at 1,071, hovering less than its five-year average by 28 fishing jobs, a 2.6 percent decline. Sablefish, or black cod, was the only other category to add jobs over the five years by 22, settling in at a yearly average of 646 black cod fishermen. Two fisheries lost jobs last year – herring and groundfish, which has dropped fishing participants nearly every year since 2015. Kodiak, for example, is one of Alaska’s top groundfish ports, and lost one-fifth of its harvester jobs (162) over five years, due in great part to reduced fishing of cod. By region, the Yukon Delta shed the largest share of fishing jobs due to poor salmon seasons. Last year’s 170 Yukon fishing participants was a 55 percent drop from 2015. Bristol Bay lost just 11 fishing jobs over five years, a decline of 0.7 percent. Four regions — Southeast, Southcentral, Kodiak and the Aleutians — added jobs last year but haven’t regained their 2015 highs. Harvester jobs are tricky to calculate because fishermen are considered self-employed. Labor economists infer jobs in a given month from fish landings, and because fishing permits are tied to specific gears and boat sizes, they can roughly estimate how many people are on the job averaged across a year. The November Trends also features processing seafood in Alaska during a pandemic and the state’s deflation statistics: “Alaska’s economy began to shut down in March due to COVID-19 and remains weak…of all the nation’s consumer price indexes generated at the state or city level, Alaska’s is the only one showing consistent overall deflation this year. The reasons aren’t yet clear, and it will take time to know whether it’s a temporary aberration, especially if the economy rebounds with any vigor,” wrote Labor economist Neal Fried. Offshore fish farms advance Two U.S. regions have been selected as Aquaculture Opportunity Areas. Or AOAs, as part of the Trump Administration’s executive order in May “Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth” in waters from three to 200 miles offshore. The two regions are in the Gulf of Mexico and off Southern California and are the first of 10 sites that NOAA’s Aquaculture Program is tasked with identifying over the next five years. The AOAs will use existing infrastructure, such as docks, processing plants, and transportation routes in selected regions to create new sustainable economic opportunities, said Danielle Blacklock, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Aquaculture, at a recent SeafoodSource webinar. “We’re looking for places that are appropriate in multiple different ways – they need to be appropriate environmentally or ecologically, meaning that areas have the right kind of current flow, the right depth, but they also need to be appropriate socially so we’re looking to minimize user conflict,” Blacklock explained. “We’re not going to be in shipping lanes and we’re looking to stay out of traditional fishing grounds. And we’re also trying to make sure that they are economically appropriate, meaning that they are close enough to a port that landing their harvest is not too much of a challenge.” There is no predetermined size for an AOA and they could vary depending on what species of fish, shellfish and seaweeds are being grown. And while the areas are planned for waters that fall under federal jurisdiction, Blacklock said NOAA hopes to also collaborate with states for opportunities in their regions. The State of Washington got onboard with NOAA Aquaculture a few years ago and it helped drive shellfish development on the west coast, said Paul Doremus, Chief Operating Officer for NOAA Fisheries. He believes that could have some appeal for Alaska, which has banned fish farming since the 1980s. “There is a very vibrant mariculture industry in Alaska and an enormous amount of interest in seaweed production and various mollusks and shellfish,” Doremus said. “This also is a path to diversifying the seafood sector and something that a lot of folks in Alaska are very excited about. They are not excited about finfish so that is unlikely to happen.” The public can comment through Dec. 22 on the Aquaculture Opportunity Areas being selected; a national listening session is scheduled for Nov. 19 from 1 to 3p.m. Eastern time. Kodiak awaits Tanners, hauls in Dungies There was some slim hope that a small Tanner crab fishery could occur in January for westward region crabbers, which includes Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula. The summer survey indicated there might be enough mature male crabs to sustain a small 2021 fishery. But after crunching all the data, it was not meant to be. Crabbers are in a gap year between a 2013 Tanner year class that’s pretty much tapped out while awaiting a 2018 cohort that’s the biggest ever, said Nat Nichols, regional manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Kodiak. “We’re fully between the two big groups of crab that we’ve been watching for the last couple years. Last year, we had a fishery on the 2013 group but they were coming up on seven years old at that point, so they were pretty much aging out of the population,” Nichols said. “For the 2018 group, it typically takes about four years to get them to legal size, so the expectation that a lot of them were going to be legal in 2020 was very low. The upshot is that this 2018 group seems to be surviving well and it’s very widespread. If they continue to do that, we could certainly see a meaningful chunk of that group getting legal next year, and then the year after that looks even better.” Nichols agreed that fewer cod fish throughout the westward region could account for the steady uptick in Tanners. “I don’t think it can hurt,” he said. “There’s just a lot fewer mouths out there trying to eat a crab dinner right now.” Meanwhile, Kodiak just wrapped up its best Dungeness crab fishery in 30 years with a catch nearing 3 million pounds for 29 boats. At the Alaska Peninsula, a fleet of 16 boats saw good hauls at 1.4 million pounds, and three boats took over a half million pounds at Chignik. That added up to a total take of 2.13 million animals. The one downer was the Dungeness price. The crabs, which weigh just over two pounds on average, reportedly fetched $1.85 a pound at Kodiak and $1.75 further west, down from more than $3 in previous seasons. Upper Inlet salmon wrap State fishery managers are calling the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery harvest and value “historically low.” The commercial harvest of roughly 1.2 million salmon was 65 percent less than the recent 10-year average harvest of 3.2 million fish. A season summary by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that the estimated ex-vessel (dock side) value of all salmon species is approximately $5.2 million, the worst on record, and about 81 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual value of $27.0 million. While all five species of Pacific salmon are found in Upper Cook Inlet, sockeye account for nearly 93 percent of the total value to fishermen during the past 20 years. The 2020 total run forecast for sockeye salmon was 4.3 million, and the actual run came in at 4.4 million fish. Salmon escapements to UCI streams were mostly above or within established ranges for sockeye, chum and coho salmon, but were poor for chinook salmon. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values seesaw after 2020 season

After a salmon season that successfully fished its way through a pandemic and upturned markets, the value of Alaska salmon permits is ticking up in two regions while toppling in others. Permit values are derived by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission based on the average value of four permit sales. One of the uppers is the bellwether fishery at Bristol Bay where driftnet permits are showing good gains after a strong fishing season, despite a disappointing base sockeye price of 70 cents per pound, down by nearly half from last year. “Probably the lowest asking price out there right now is $170,000,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Of course, the next big news here for the Bay would be the forecasts for next year which are not out yet, and they could certainly have an influence on what people are willing to pay for those permits. But they have come up considerably from the low of $150,000 before the season.” Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg lists one Bristol Bay permit at $195,000, while Dock Street Brokers has new drift listings at between $170,000 and $180,000. Kodiak was a bright spot for salmon seiners who caught an unexpected surge of more than 21 million pinks. That helped boost permit values for the first time in years. “Before the season, those Kodiak seine permits were probably worth around $35,000. In recent sales, they’ve ticked up to around $38,000 and we have them available on the market now at $40,000,” Bowen said. “So they’ve trended up a bit.” Permit Master shows Kodiak seine cards listed between $36,000 to $40,000, and $45,000 at Dock Street Elsewhere in Alaska, other salmon permit values have declined since last spring. At Cook Inlet, yet another lousy season has pushed down the value to the $20,000 range, the lowest since farmed salmon caused a crash decades ago. “Those Cook Inlet drift permits got up to as high as $240,000 or $250,000 at the high water mark, and then when farmed salmon came along in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the entire salmon industry crashed and the permit values dropped by 90 percent or more. I remember selling Cook Inlet drifts for $10,000 at the bottom,” Bowen said. The Copper River drift fishery this year also was a wash. “The fish just did not show up on the flats there. Before the season those permits were around $140,000 give or take, and recent sales are around $105,000,” he said. “They’ve dropped a lot and there’s not much movement there. Nobody wants to sell at those low prices.” Prince William Sound seiners did better in their fisheries, but those permit values also have taken a dip from $140,000 to $145,000 before the season. “You could probably pick one up for $130,000 now,” Bowen said. At Southeast Alaska, where a disaster has been declared after one of the worst seasons in more than 40 years, salmon permit values reflect the decline. “The market for drift and seine permits is about flat with very little interest or movement in those Southeast permits,” Bowen said. “Before the season, you could have picked up a drift permit for $70,000. The lowest asking price out there now is probably $67,000 so I would imagine you could pick one up for somewhere in the $60,000 range. In the spring of last year, Southeast seine permits were around $250,000; the asking price now is $175,000.” Nowhere in Alaska has a salmon permit value dropped more than at Chignik, once the most exclusive in the state. “They were probably the most expensive salmon permit on the market for a while at about a half a million dollars. There has been absolutely no activity in that Chignik seine permit market and the lowest asking price is probably about $90,000. But there is zero interest there,” Bowen added. Permit values at Area M (False Pass) also show little interest after a lousy season with no sales post-season. “We have a permit listed at $185,000 and an offer of $140,000,” he added. Despite the downturns, Bowen said most people are still optimistic about Alaska’s iconic fishery and boat sales are brisk. “You have to be willing to take a risk to plunk down a big chunk of cash for a boat in these times with so much uncertainty, but our boat sales are doing great,” he said. “I don’t think anything demonstrates confidence in the industry as much as buying a boat. It’s a huge investment and people are making them.” Expos and All Hands COVID-19 has derailed face-to-face fish gatherings and forced them to online venues, and there’s a fishing industry dream of a lineup for this month. One perk of “going virtual” is that more people can tune in to all kinds of meetings, discussions and workshops no matter where they call home. That will hopefully be the case at the Fishermen’s Fall Expo at Sitka on Nov. 11 and 12 hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust. “Usually, it’s Sitka fishermen and women that come in and get to participate in these trainings and workshops. But this year, we’re hoping to have a broader scope of folks throughout the region and the state and maybe beyond, too. We’ve got quite a lineup and yes, it is a bit pot heavy,” said Natalie Sattler, program coordinator, with a laugh. Sattler is referring to the new lightweight, coiled pots that prevent whales from robbing black cod catches and are changing the game, especially for smaller boats. Manufacturers will be on hand with demonstrations; others will show how to set up boat decks and hydraulics for longliners who are interested in switching to the whale-proof pots. The new gear could lead to new fishing regulations and Sattler said a forum will discuss potential changes. “We want to help both hook and line and pot boats really coexist on the grounds and ensure that small boats continue to have a viable future in the sablefish fishery,” she said. Also in the lineup: updates on local mariculture, vessel energy efficiency, hybrid technology, management 101, and fishermen’s ergonomics. “How to take care of your body when you’re fishing to prevent certain injuries,” Sattler explained. “So that’ll be kind of fun to get folks up and moving in the comfort of their own homes.” Sign up for free at www.alfafish.org. Get the latest updates on nearly every Alaska fish in the sea at the popular All Hands on Deck virtual meetings set for Nov. 10-13 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Each day will focus on marketing strategies and challenges for the fish and shellfish ASMI promotes in the U.S. and around the world. “ASMI’s mission is to increase the economic value and awareness of the Alaska seafood resource and that’s a really big lift,” said Ashley Heimbigner, ASMI communications director. “And we couldn’t do it without the input and guidance and ‘on the ground’ information we get from all of our industry partners and stakeholders.” The All Hands lineup features the latest industry economic indicators presented by the McDowell Group, including COVID-19 impacts around the world, trade disputes, and a roundtable forum with experts from the global seafood supply chain. Every fish and shellfish species gets its own session, Heimbigner said. “If you were to pop in to a crab species committee meeting, you might hear them discussing an overview of stock assessments in specific regions, or how consumer preferences are changing in certain countries or what product forms are gaining in popularity,” she explained, adding that ASMI is excited about the potential to attract more attendees. “This year is the opportunity to get more voices from more places and more aspects of our industry that maybe couldn’t have made a trip to Anchorage to participate in previous years,” she said. The All Hands on Deck conference and documents will be posted to the ASMI website. Register for free at www.alaskaseafood.org. Pacific Marine Expo, the West Coast’s largest annual trade show, has been transformed to Expo Online from Nov. 17-19 in Seattle, in partnership with National Fisherman. The three days of “conferences, contests and making connections” will showcase offshore wind power and commercial fishing, the latest in vessel design and gear technology, what’s next for the Pebble mine and a Fishing Industry Career Fair. The Expo plans to keep the show running through 2010 with monthly webinars that feature direct marketing, onboard safety drills, ocean health: reducing plastics, and Ask an Old Salt, to name a few. Register for free and get updates at www.NationalFisherman.com. Info gap Federal fishery overseers want to fill in some information gaps in their understanding of economic impacts by hearing from West Coast and Alaska fishermen via a short survey. Ocean Strategies is gathering the information and delivering it confidentially to NOAA to make sure those harvesters are included in the effort to document impacts to the commercial fishing industry. Contact Hannah Heimbuch at www.oceanstrat.com/ to take the five-minute survey. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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.

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