Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: ASMI paper outlines Russia’s ambitious seafood plans

Lost in the headlines about the hits to seafood sales from the Trump Administration’s trade war with China is another international barrier with Russia that’s been going on far longer. In August 2014 Russia placed an embargo on all U.S. food products to retaliate for sanctions the U.S and other Western countries imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. The ban included Alaska seafood, which at the time accounted for more than $61 million in annual sales to Russia, primarily from pink salmon roe. But here’s the bigger hurt: For the nearly six years that the embargo has been in place, no corresponding limits have ever been imposed on Russian seafood coming into the US. At first, Alaska seafood companies and the Congressional delegation made some “tit for tat” noise about imposing a ban on Russian seafood. But in fact, the value of Russian imports has grown nearly 70 percent since 2014; and it all comes into the U.S. almost entirely duty free. A four-page white paper from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute outlines the trade imbalance further. For example, the U.S. imported $551 million of seafood from Russia in 2018, plus $50 million of pollock from China that was caught in Russia. U.S. crab comprised 84 percent of the value of Russian imports just in that one year. Through December 2019, the numbers increased again; federal trade data show that more than 80.2 million pounds of Russian seafood entered the U.S. valued at over $698 million. That included nearly 16 million pounds of red king crab valued at $293 million and 4.6 million pounds of frozen sockeye salmon worth more than $16.7 million. Alaska and Russia harvest many of the same fish and crab species, and many Russian seafood products compete in the U.S. at much lower prices. The trade report reveals how ASMI worked aggressively to build markets in Russia starting in 2006, and steady growth boosted Alaska pink salmon prices from 2010 through 2013, which benefitted fishermen and coastal communities. The trade imbalance will only get worse, the ASMI report said, as Russia aims to nearly double the value of its global seafood exports by 2024 to more than $8 billion. Huge investments are underway to increase and modernize capacity by building more than 20 new processing plants and 90 new fishing vessels by the year 2030. The plan also includes the launch of a new marketing and supply chain strategy called “The Russian Fish.” Total investments by Russia to its fishery sector between 2018 and 2025 are estimated at nearly $7 billion. Call for crew trainees The call is out for Alaskans interested in learning firsthand about commercial fishing. It’s the third year for the Crew Training Program hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. More than 213 have applied so far from all across the country and 25 deckhands and 20 skippers have participated. “It’s very exciting to see so many young people interested in entering the commercial fishing industry. You always hear about the graying of the fleet but it shows that the interest is out there. Young people just need these resources to explore and get involved,” said Tara Racine, ALFA communications and program development coordinator. ALFA received a $70,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the program and to support similar crew apprenticeships in Alaska. Additional grants came from the Edgerton Foundation, the City and Borough of Sitka, the Alaska Community Foundation. “We are hoping to share any information and lessons that we’ve compiled and learned and material we’ve created and give it to anyone else interested in doing a program like this,” Racine said. Most of the recruits have gone out on longliners and trollers and plans include expanding to seiners and gillnetters in a flexible fishing schedule. “We have short term and long term programs,” she explained. “It could be just a couple of days for people who just want an intro and that’s what the skippers have the availability and time for. We also have plenty who go out for the entire season or several weeks at a time.” The rookies are paid for their work and Racine said skippers are eager to show them the ropes. “The skippers are looking for reliable crew and are wanting to mentor the next generation of resource stewards and skilled fishermen. So not only are they training the pool of young people in our area to become deck hands, they also are ensuring the life of this industry that they love and is so important to our coastal communities,” she said. Troller Eric Jordan has mentored more than 40 young fishermen aboard the F/V I Gotta. He believes the future depends on them learning the right ways to care for the fish. “Finding crew with some experience is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole,” Jordan said. “One of the things this program provides is the taste of it. So, deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” The program’s growth will depend on more skipper participation. Applicants must be 18 or older to apply at www.alfafish.org/crewtraining. The deadline is Feb. 28. Dungie danger Two hundred fishermen in Southeast Alaska will share a record $16.3 million payday for the Dungeness crab they hauled up from combined summer and winter fisheries, which just wrapped up last month. Crabbers fishing primarily around Petersburg and Wrangell landed 5.3 million pounds of dungies for the season, the third highest catch and at an average $3.07 per pound, the most valuable ever. Meanwhile, some grim news for dungies has surfaced that reveals impacts of increased ocean acidity on the crab. Results from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in California showed for the first time that corrosive conditions of coastal waters affected portions of the fragile, still-developing shells and legs of tiny, post-larval Dungeness crabs, leaving tell-tale features such as abnormal ridging structures and scarred surfaces. In another surprising discovery, lab studies on crabs collected in 2016 showed increased acidity caused the loss of hair-like bristles called mechanoreceptors that stick out from the shell and transmit important chemical and mechanical sensations that help the crabs navigate their environment. The research team said “this is a new aspect of crustacean sensitivity to ocean acidification that has not been previously reported.” Previously, scientists thought Dungeness crab were not vulnerable to current levels of acidity. “This is the first study that demonstrates that larval crabs are already affected by ocean acidification in the natural environment and builds on previous understanding of ocean acidification impacts on pteropods,” lead author Nina Bednarsek said in a press release. (Pteropods are tiny floating snails that are a main diet for juvenile pink salmon) Dungeness crab is the West Coast’s most valuable fishery and all states are working to develop policies and management tools to deal with effects on marine life from the off kilter ocean chemistry. Some reports have shown that even if preventive measures are taken now, the situation will still worsen in coming years before it gets better. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fish bills on move in Legislature; ASMI hosts young buyers

Alaska lawmakers are making fast work of several fish bills that have wide support from Alaska’s fishermen. “I was anticipating a somewhat slow start, but they’re organized and they’re diving right into these issues and taking these bills up. And so there’s lots of opportunities to participate,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. House Bill 35, which would resolve a conflict of interest issue at the state Board of Fisheries, has been moving through committee hearings in Juneau and could finally be settled after a 14-year push. “One of the reasons they’re chosen for that board is they may have a regional expertise or they may have a user group expertise. So we want them to be able to not vote, but participate and lend that expertise in deliberations to provide clarification to other board members who may not be as familiar with that region or fishery,” Leach said. Another fast moving measure (HB 85 and Senate Bill 145) aims to give boat owners a break from having to register it in person at a DMV office. It was part of a well-intentioned Derelict Vessels Act whose ill-timed roll out last year by the Department of Administration created chaos among commercial and sport boat owners who were breaking a new law they didn’t even know about. UFA supports the concept of the act, which is aimed at identifying owners of abandoned boats, “but we are really pushing for this exemption because we already register our boats through the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and they have all the details that would be going to the DMV because they’re both state managed data bases. So it’s kind of like reinventing the wheel and just causing more work,” Leach said. A bill that would allow Alaskans to transport live crab (HB 203) also is moving its way through the legislative process. Live crab is the most lucrative market and the bill has UFA’s strong backing. “As the statutes currently stand we’re not able to transport red king crab, Tanner crab and Dungeness live via ground. This bill would make it so that could happen and it would open up some new avenues, I believe,” Leach explained. UFA also strongly backs bills supporting Alaska’s mariculture industry and a sound commercial fisheries budget. Other fishery related bills in the legislative pipeline include providing product development tax credits for cod and pollock (SB 130) and a push for a personal use priority above all other users (SB 99). Another measure that is resurfacing is HB 199 which seeks to create “rehabilitation permits” to allow transfer of fish eggs or fry from waters in one locale or region to enhance habitat in waters elsewhere. Leach said UFA will solidify its positions on more fish bills at its annual meeting Feb. 25-27 in Juneau. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest fishing trade group with 35 member groups, from small skiff fisheries to the largest at-sea processors. Future fish buyers A “Next Generation” of foreign seafood buyers is set for a whirlwind visit to the working waterfront of Kodiak, the nation’s No. 3 fishing port. After touching down in Seattle, eight visitors younger than 40 from Ukraine, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Mexico will spend two full days this week in Kodiak to meet with fishery managers, tour four big processing plants and go out on a few boats. “The goal is to show them all parts of the Alaska seafood story from harvesting, processing, sustainable management, everything, said Alice Ottoson-McKeen, the international marketing specialist at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute who organized the millennial trade mission. “There’s really no better way to show off the wonders of Alaska than in person and for people to see it up close with their own eyes.” ASMI has strong relationships with buyers around the world who have long opted for Alaska seafood over other choices; this mission aims to build similar strong connections with the upcoming generation, she said. Two years ago, ASMI hosted a similar mission and brought a group of seven European seafood buyers to Dutch Harbor in February for four days. “Our goal when we bring these missions in is to showcase and impress upon people that Alaska seafood really is the things that we advertise in our taglines; it is wild, it’s natural, it’s sustainable,” she explained. Why bring all these visitors to Alaska in the middle of winter? “Alaska fisheries are open year-round, and just because it’s icy and it’s cold, that doesn’t mean that our fishermen aren’t out fishing,” Ottoson-McKeen said. “They get to really understand the hard work that goes into bringing Alaska seafood to market. I think that really reinforces that Alaska seafood is wild, and it’s totally natural. And it also allows us to showcase products that we wouldn’t necessarily get to see in the summer.” Grants give back The Alaskan Leader Foundation is accepting applications from non-profits and projects for its annual grant giveaways in Kodiak and Bristol Bay. Funding typically goes to programs such as food banks, shelters, educational and youth programs, museums and recycling efforts. Alaskan Leader Foundation was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families and was joined in 2007 by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Foundation. Deadline to apply is February 28. For an application, contact Linda Kozak at 907-539-5585 or [email protected] Fish watch Winter sees a wide array of Alaska fisheries out on the water with more to come. Cod and a big mix of whitefish kicked off the year in the Bering Sea and in many parts of the Gulf of Alaska. Alaska pollock, the world’s largest food fishery, opened on Jan. 20 in the Bering Sea with a 3 billion-pound harvest. Smaller pollock catches will come out of the Gulf (250 million pounds) and at Prince William Sound (5 million pounds). Boats are targeting black rockfish in Southeast, and at Kodiak, Chignik, the Alaska Peninsula and along the Aleutians. Lingcod also is open in Southeast. (856,000 pounds). Bering Sea crabbers are still out on the grounds pulling up snow crab. This season’s catch was boosted to nearly 34 million pounds, a 24 percent increase. A 400,000-pound Tanner crab fishery at Kodiak is going slow but fishermen are fetching more than $4 per pound. Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open in Southeast on Feb. 17. The Tanner catch usually comes in at around one million pounds; the golden crab quota of 41,000 pounds is down by about half. A Tanner crab fishery also opens on March 1 at Prince William Sound. Southeast’s shrimp trawl fishery closed on February 3 around Petersburg and Wrangell with a catch of 400,000 pounds of pinks and sidestripes. Shrimp trawling is Southeast’s longest ongoing fishery since 1915 and it will reopen again in May. And if you didn’t think Alaska salmon fishing goes on nearly year round, more than 100 Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter kings. The state Board of Fisheries is in the midst of a marathon meeting on Upper Cook Inlet fishing issues. More than 170 management proposals are on deck through Feb. 19 at the Anchorage Egan Center. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

UFA breaks down $1M in proposed cuts to ComFish budget

Alaska gets a good return on investment from its commercial fisheries. And surprise! Commercial fisheries expertise also sustains Alaska’s subsistence and most of the personal use fisheries. “This is probably not well-known,” said Sam Rabung, director of the commercial fisheries division for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, at a presentation last week to the House Fisheries Committee. “Data collected by our division is shared across all divisions within the department as much as possible,” he explained to lawmakers. “We also share the cost of projects and facilities with other divisions. We work as a team. So that investment also carries over to other user groups.” Rabung pointed out that the commercial fishing industry is the largest private sector employer in Alaska, putting almost 60,000 people to work annually. “It contributes about $172 million directly in taxes, fees and self-assessments to state, local and federal governments, and contributes an annual average of about $5.6 billion in economic output to the Alaska economy,” he added. Of the $172 million in taxes, 43 percent ($73 million) goes to state coffers, 30 percent ($51 million) to local governments; 23 percent ($40 million) funds salmon hatchery management, and 5 percent ($8 million) goes to the federal government. Rabung pointed out that the division’s main charge is sustaining the revenue-generating fisheries long into the future, and that takes good science. “Most of our budget is used on research, which is another word for assessment tools,” he told the committee. “We assess the stocks to see if there is a harvestable surplus. If we can’t do that work, we can’t open a fishery and say we’re managing sustainably and we revert to being more conservative. We may have less openings or lower guideline harvest levels or in some cases, we might just close the fisheries altogether. We set the bar very high as far as sustainability.” Fisheries Committee Chair Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, stressed that few state investments return as much to the state operating budget. “When the budget for ADF&G is cut, that directly affects the resulting revenue to the state by affecting the ability to fully prosecute the fisheries that might be involved in the budget reductions,” Stutes said. “My goal in this hearing was to make it clear that Alaska’s commercial fisheries do indeed pay their own way. Investments in our commercial fisheries lead directly to fishing opportunities for Alaskans, great returns to the general fund, and produce benefits in spades for our state economy. We should be looking at targeted increases to the department’s budget.” Targeted reductions The Commercial Fisheries Division operates on a nearly $67 million budget, of which $36 million comes from state general funds. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 calls for a nearly $1 million reduction. Here are targeted programs across the state at this early stage in the budget process, provided by United Fishermen of Alaska. Crab lovers in Southeast Alaska could go without if $315,600 in funding is eliminated for tracking the region’s red king crab population. “A lot of people don’t recognize that those stock assessments help evaluate if the personal use fishery can open. So without that assessment, there will be no personal use fisheries for red king crab in Southeast Alaska,” said United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach. Leach said nearly 3,700 red king crab personal use permits are issued in Southeast every year. Only two commercial king crab fisheries have occurred in 10 years. “The Commercial Fisheries Division pays for a lot more than commercial fisheries,” Leach said. “We pay for research for personal use and sports. And it’s something to be noted for sure.” Cuts also are on deck for stock assessments for Southeast urchin and sea cucumber fisheries ($19,900) which will likely reduce fishing time. “Currently dive fishermen are paying a good percentage of that assessment. And now Fish and Game is cutting their portion and looking elsewhere for the funding,” Leach said. The Wrangle ADFG office will be closed and one position will be relocated to Petersburg; the other will be eliminated to save $66,200. In the Central Region, suppression projects for pike that are eating tiny salmon in the Susitna and Yenta Rivers also are set for elimination ($47,200). “The Division of Commercial Fisheries is attempting to get Sport Fisheries to take over this project,” the UFA breakdown said. At Kodiak, management of the Frazer Lake fish pass for sockeye salmon would be reduced. ($23,200) Research on Bering Sea salmon would be cut by $299,600 and funding would instead rely on grants or the federal government. Aquaculture planning and permitting projects would be reduced and a full time biologist position lost in Juneau ($159,000) This comes at a time when mariculture of seaweeds and shellfish in Alaska is taking off and new growers are waiting up to two years to get permits in hand. Fishing for science Halibut boats are wanted to help with the annual stock surveys from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. The International Pacific Halibut Commission charters between 10 and 14 longline vessels each year to take aboard up to 30 scientists from late May through August. “The whole coast is broken up into 28 charter regions and vessels can bid on any number of those regions that they’d like to fish for us,” said Steve Keith, IPHC assistant director. “We supply the bait and the ice, they supply the vessel and crew, and we usually send out two to four of our own set line survey specialists to do the fish sampling and accounting and all the record keeping for our purposes,” adding that many of the boats and biologists participate year after year. “They love it,” Keith said. “Sometimes they’ll be in Canada, sometimes in Southeast or way out in the Aleutians. They get to see a lot of the North Pacific.” The charter is just like a regular four to five day fishing trip, Keith said, but the boats use standard techniques and protocols within a set grid of stations so that data are comparable from year to year. Our survey is one of the most extensive in the world, actually,” Keith said. “We have a time series now that goes back more than 20 years and it’s the primary index of abundance that we use as we’re doing our stock assessment each year.” “We appreciate the experience of the skippers and crews that come to us,” Keith added. “It’s, you know, the fishing community contributing to the science directly and to the management of the halibut resource.” Halibut charter vessels typically get a 10 percent share of the fish sales. Bids must be emailed to the IPHC Secretariat at [email protected] by Feb. 15. Questions? Call 206.634.1838. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: First checks finally set for 2016 pink salmon disaster

It’s been a long time coming but payments should soon be in hand for Alaska fishermen, processors and coastal communities hurt by the 2016 pink salmon run failure, the worst in 40 years. The funds are earmarked for Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik, Lower Cook Inlet, South Alaska Peninsula, Southeast Alaska and Yakutat. Congress OK’d more than $56 million in federal relief in 2017, but the authorization to cut the money loose languished on NOAA desks in D.C. for more than two years. The payouts got delayed again last October when salmon permit holders, who share the biggest chunk at nearly $32 million, were finally able to apply to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission for their checks. But when it was discovered that the way in which the payouts were calculated was badly flawed, the PSMFC put on the brakes. “There was a big snafu because a lot of the crew was under reported by the skippers. So Pacific States said that until everything gets squared away, no one is going to get any checks,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who has been watchdogging the payouts since the ink fishery was declared a disaster. About 1,300 salmon permit holders are eligible for payments, according to the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “In terms of eligible crew, we can only report the number of crew names submitted on CFEC permit holder applications because no data are available on crew fishery participation. Pacific States received applications from about 850 CFEC permit holders that listed about 2,000 crew names,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a statement to Stutes’ office, adding: “We are working to try and follow up with CFEC permit holders that did not submit applications to try and maximize the distribution of payments.” “That was just not acceptable,” Stutes said, quickly crediting leadership at ADFG for coming up with a better solution. “With the help of Commissioner (Doug) Vincent-Lang and Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker we worked with the commission and they agreed to send out checks to those individuals who they had no questions about,” Stutes explained, adding that checks should be in the mail by mid-February. “And they are going to send out letters to individuals they do have questions about to give them an opportunity to immediately reply rather than wait till the appeal period.” Alaska pink salmon processors will split nearly $18 million in disaster relief funds. “They are trying to figure out how to pay their employees and what employees qualify,” she said. “So, it’s finally moving after three-and-a-half years.” $2.4 million in disaster funds is set aside for municipalities and nearly $4 million will go to pink salmon research: $450,000 to Kodiak’s Kitoi Bay Hatchery for its Saltwater Marking Sampling project; $680,000 to the Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey to help with pink salmon forecasting; and $2.5 million to the Alaska Hatchery Research Project that since 2010 has studied interactions of hatchery and wild salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast. Fishery disasters also were declared for the 2018 cod collapse in the Gulf of Alaska and the sockeye salmon failure at Chignik. Recipients should fare better if Congress approves a bill introduced last week by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. The bipartisan bill, called Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act (Fishery FUNDD Act), would improve the federal fishery disaster process and set a strict timeline for payout of funds. As Stutes readied for Juneau for the Jan. 21 start of the legislative session, she said she was “optimistic.” “I feel like the people of Alaska have sent a message to the administration and I’m hoping the administration will be a little more willing to interact with the legislature,” she said. “That was a big stumbling block last year. We did not have much communication between the administration and the legislature. And you just don’t get anything done when you have such a divided body. I’m optimistic that we can come together as a unit and protect Alaskans.” As chair of the fisheries committee Stutes said a top priority will be ensuring a robust ADFG budget. “When you cut the Fish and Game budget, you’re cutting revenue to the state,” she said. In terms of fishery measures left over from last session, Stutes said a goal is to pass a bill (House Bill 35) that resolves conflict of interest protocols for the state Board of Fisheries. “When you have a board member who has expertise in a certain area and is conflicted out and can’t even express his knowledge to other board members, what’s the point of having him on the board?” she explained. “This bill will allow them to participate in the conversation but will not allow them to vote on the issue. We’ve been trying to change this for 14 years and this is the closest we’ve come.” Another Stutes bill (HB 185) aims to rewrite the 2018 Derelict Vessel Act to exempt boats already licensed with the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The new law requires that owners of all boats longer than 24 feet register in person at a DMV, including those already documented by the U.S. Coast Guard. “That’s kind of a double whammy for individuals who already have registered through the CFEC. It’s a duplication of information,” Stutes explained. “The idea is not to create additional revenue for the state, but to create a data base so they have access to ownership to vessels that are in Alaska waters.” Forest fish A first ever, 10-year study estimates the numbers and values of what the Tongass and Chugach forest rivers and streams contribute to Alaska’s commercial salmon industry. The Tongass is the largest national forest in the U.S. at nearly 27,000 square miles and covers most of Southeast Alaska. The adjacent Chugach at half the size ranks as the nation’s second-largest forest and covers the Copper River delta, Prince William Sound, and part of the Kenai Peninsula. The study results showed that from 2007 to 2016 the two forests contributed 48 million salmon on average each year to commercial fisheries, with a dockside value of $88 million. These “forest fish” represented 25 percent of Alaska’s total salmon catch for decade and 16 percent of the total commercial value. For the Tongass, the most lucrative “forest fish” was pink salmon averaging $42 million to fishermen each year. Cohos came next, averaging nearly $15 million and chums at almost $9 million. For the Chugach, the priciest returns came from sockeye salmon, which produced $10.5 million in local catches on average. Pinks were next at $6.2 million. The study said it underestimates the value of salmon produced by the forests, as it only takes into account commercial harvests and does not recreational or subsistence uses. It also counts only dockside value, and not the economic impacts of local fish processing. The 10-year project was funded by the U.S. Forest Service, which is interested in estimating the different activities and services that national forests provide. Find Quantifying the Monetary Value of Alaska National Forests to Commercial Pacific Salmon Fisheries in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management. Fish updates Cod and a mix of groundfish kicked off the fishing year on Jan. 1 in the Bering Sea and throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Boats also are targeting black rockfish in Southeast, around Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula and along the Aleutians. Lingcod also is open in Southeast, where divers also have wrapped up a 2 million pound sea cucumber fishery and are still tapping on giant geoduck clams. More than 100 Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter king salmon. Alaska pollock opened on Jan. 20 in the Gulf and Bering Sea where the catch will again top 3 billion pounds. Prince William Sound also has a 5 million-pound pollock fishery. Bering Sea crabbers are still out on the grounds pulling up 34 million pounds of snow crab, a 24 percent increase. Kodiak’s Jan. 15 Tanner crab fishery was pushed back a day due to high winds. Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open in Southeast on Feb. 17, and Tanners open on March 1 at Prince William Sound. Winter is the busiest time for Alaska fish meetings. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Jan. 27 through Feb. 2 in Seattle. Halibut stakeholders are bracing for 2020 catches when they are announced in two weeks. The International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting is at the Captain Cook in Anchorage this year from Feb. 3-7. The Board of Fish put in an extra day at Kodiak and heads next to a marathon meeting on Upper Cook Inlet fishing issues. More than 170 management proposals are on deck from Feb 7-19 at the Anchorage Egan Center. The 40th annual ComFish Alaska trade show is set for March 26-28 in Kodiak. The fourth annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo is scheduled for June 12-13 in Naknek. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Winter fisheries set to ramp up; GM labels coming in 2020

Alaska’s seafood industry will be “open for business” starting Jan. 1 when some of the biggest fisheries get underway long before the start of the first salmon runs in mid-May. Cod will begin it all in the Bering Sea, which has a 305.5 million-pound catch quota, down about a million pounds from 2019. Less than 6 million pounds of codfish will come out of the Gulf. A 400,000-pound Tanner crab fishery at Kodiak starting on Jan. 15 will be helpful to a town whose economic bottom line will be badly battered by the Gulf cod crash. But it will be the opening of Alaska pollock on Jan. 20 that will keep Kodiak’s processing workforce on the job, along with many other Gulf and Bering Sea communities. The Gulf of Alaska pollock catch took a slide to about 250 million pounds, a drop of more than 57 million pounds from 2019. Conversely, the Bering Sea will produce more than 3 billion pounds of Alaska pollock this year, a 2 percent increase. Mid-January is also around the time when Bering Sea crabbers will get serious about pulling up snow crab. That quota is nearly 34 million pounds, a 24 percent increase from last season. Southeast Alaska crabbers will drop pots for golden king crab and Tanner crab on Feb. 17. In recent years, those harvests have been in the 76,000- and 1 million-pound range, respectively. Halibut fisheries will open to more than 2,000 Alaska longliners in March. Catches will be announced by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in early February. Also coming in the spring: roe herring fisheries with some jaw dropping harvests. At Sitka Sound, a catch quota of 25,824 tons is double the 2019 limit when the fishery was called off for the first time in decades due to the small size of the fish. Managers predict heftier herring next spring, saying the forecasted 2020 age-4 herring population is “extremely high.” “The 2020 forecast is larger than the estimated 2019 mature biomass of 130,738 tons and is greater than any forecast previously estimated for Sitka Sound herring,” said a release by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. At Alaska’s biggest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay, a whopping 38,749-ton harvest is forecasted. Up next for the state Board of Fisheries is Kodiak, where it will meet Jan. 11-14. The seven-member board sets the rules for subsistence, commercial, sport, and personal use fisheries and takes up issues by region every three years. Thirty-six Kodiak proposals are on the docket. Murkowski: Name it or no sale Makers of Frankenfish have changed their tune now that labeling their product is about to become law. In a $1.4 trillion appropriations bill passed by Congress two weeks ago to avoid another government shutdown, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski slipped in a rider that will require “a clear, text-based label” that tells customers they are buying “genetically engineered” fish. The manmade fish, first created in 1989 by Massachusetts-based Aqua Bounty Technologies, replaces a growth hormone gene in Atlantic salmon with one from a Pacific chinook, and combines it with antifreeze proteins from an ocean pout, giving it the ability to survive in near-freezing waters. The tweak enables the GM salmon to grow year-round, nearly three times faster than normal fish. The salmon are grown at a land-based facility in Indiana. The labeling rule is a final hurdle for AquaBounty to sell its salmon in the U.S. The push has been two decades in the making; with approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015 the “AquaAdvantage” fish now is set to go to market by late 2020. AquaBounty called Murkowski’s push for labeling “vague” and “unnecessary” and said it was a “misguided attempt to single out a small, innovative company to protect special interests,” adding in a release that the rider only benefits “Chilean and Norwegian companies that currently export more Atlantic salmon to the U.S. than any American company produces.” That’s a change of tune from October when AquaBounty embraced the Frankenfish name at a conference in Washington, D.C., likening it to the Frankenstein monster in the book written in 1817, and calling opponents an “uneducated mob” that “didn’t understand the benefits of the science.” Then, company CEO Sylvia Wulf applauded the push for labeling. “We think that’s really good news for us. The market will be awash in so many bioengineered products, customers won’t focus on our fish,” Wulf said at the time, adding “buyers are already lined up to get it.” That sounds like a tough sell. Nearly 2 million Americans opposed the FDA’s approval of Frankenfish and 60 major grocery chains with 9,000 locations pledged not to sell it, including Safeway, Kroger, and Target. Meanwhile, Jeremy Woodrow, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said it’s just another type of farmed fish. “Honestly, here at ASMI we see that as just another farmed seafood product, and we’ve been competing against farmed salmon in the marketplace for several decades now. Wild, natural, sustainable – those are attributes that really only apply to Alaska salmon, wild-harvested salmon and that sets us apart in the marketplace, and those are the attributes that we’ll continue to sell to customers.” In a touch of irony, while AquaBounty plans to expand its sales to China and South America, it has no plans to pitch its Frankenfish to Europe because of “their anti-GM leanings.” Bristol Bay goes galactic! The famed Nushagak and Mulchatna Rivers are now named in the cosmos as an intergalactic star and exoplanet (planets that are outside of our solar system that revolve around other stars instead of the sun). The International Astronomical Union chose the names that were submitted by Ivory Adajar, a Bristol Bay fisherman and member of the Curyung Tribal Council. Adajar’s winning entries topped a field of nearly 900 entries in the competition and were announced in Paris on Dec. 17. She chose the name Nushagak for a star and Mulchatna for an exoplanet, Adajar said, “after earth’s greatest wild salmon river ecosystems that resemble the nature of the exoplanet’s orbit,” she told the Cordova Times, adding, “Our wild salmon are known for their wiggly, eccentric paths out to the ocean and back to fresh water. We might not have this natural habitat and rich fisheries in the future but we can have the star and exoplanet in honor of Alaska’s rich salmon culture and heritage.” “After winning this great honor,” she added, “I plan to use it as a platform to help educate youth and others about our beautiful starry sky above and the rich natural ecology of our Earth below.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ADFG gives go-ahead for small state waters cod fishery

They say good things come in small packages and that’s the case for Alaska cod fishermen heading into the new year. A small cod fishery will occur in Gulf state waters (out to three miles) for 2020, putting to rest speculation that no cod would be coming out of the Gulf next year. A catch quota of about 5.6 million pounds, down from 10.2 million pounds, will be split among five regions: Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Chignik and the South Alaska Peninsula, with limitations on gear and staggered openers. That will be a relief to thousands of Alaskans whose jobs are tied to the fishing industry. Unlike other coastal communities that run on summer salmon, P-cod typically kicks off fishing on New Year’s Day in many fishing towns and keeps workers busy at seafood processing, transports, fuel docks, grocery stores, repair shops and other businesses throughout the year. It didn’t make the mainstream press but in an unprecedented move earlier this month, fishery managers shut down cod fisheries for 2020 in Gulf federal waters (from three to 200 miles) due to a collapse of the stock from “(un)natural causes.” The fish were clobbered by a three year heat wave starting in 2014 that raised water temperatures by as much as 5 degrees. The shift hurt several cod year classes and their offspring by throwing their metabolism and diets off kilter. Cod numbers decreased from nearly 250.5 million pounds in 2014 to less than 30 million pounds in 2018 and surveys this year showed more declines. “Think of no salmon returns to Bristol Bay. Or a shutdown of pollock for the ‘A’ Season in the Bering Sea. This is the kind of seismic impact the changes in climate have wrought with cod,” John Sackton, founder of SeafoodNews.com, wrote it his Winding Glass column titled “Lack of Cod killing Alaskan Communities, as State and Council Punt on any Relief.” When making their decisions, fishery managers must consider other cod-dependent users. By law, strict apportionments must accommodate the diet of sea lions, a protected species. “The closure they’ve announced this year is not because of overfishing or a stock collapse. It’s really because of federal mitigation measures for Steller sea lions,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. The state cod fisheries are determined by surveys and stock models done by federal overseers who then break out the catch among all Alaska fishing regions and gear types. While some fishermen questioned the opener, suggesting it would be best to “let the Gulf cod rest a bit,” Vincent-Lang defended the decision and called it a “balancing act.” “This decision is a carefully thought out and conservative approach to recognize the balance between conservation and Alaska’s right to manage our own resources. We are confident that we’ve struck that balance in this decision and will be monitoring to avoid over harvest yet provide our fishermen the opportunity to fish,” he wrote in an email. Gov. Mike Dunleavy added in a statement that he trusts ADFG to monitor and manage the fishery in a way that avoids overharvest and yet provides an opportunity to fish and provide tax revenues for fishing towns. Around 225 boats of all sizes fish for cod in the Gulf of Alaska, including trawlers, longliners, pot boats and jiggers, each an independent business supporting several families. The Gulf cod outlook is grim with surveys showing very few tiny cod in the water. Worse, an even hotter blob appears to be on the horizon, said Steve Barbeaux, a scientist with NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center. The future is getting harder to predict, said Nat Nichols, area groundfish manager at ADFG in Kodiak, because decades of robust data used to assess the stocks no longer apply. “All of a sudden all the data you collected in the ‘80s and ‘90s about how ocean conditions affect certain stocks start to become a lot less useful for making predictions because it’s so different than anything we’ve seen,” Nichols said. “If you’re trying to compare ocean conditions this year and make a forecast for next year, that works pretty well if you’ve seen these conditions before. But if you haven’t, it starts to fall apart pretty quick.” Pacific cod is Alaska’s second largest groundfish catch by volume topping 510 million pounds in 2018 (a 22 percent decrease from 2017), according to an economic status report by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council plan team. The combined dockside value of Bering Sea and Gulf cod catches in 2018 totaled $225 million, reflecting a 59 percent drop in the Gulf to just $29 million. There will be a 2020 cod fishery in the Bering Sea of 305.5 million pounds, down by nearly a million pounds. Fishing futures The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit since 2007 has helped build a sustained network of fishing operations across the state and the next gathering is set for Jan. 21-23 in Juneau. The AYFS, sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant, will have drawn over 500 attendees after the Juneau event, said Sunny Rice, a Sea Grant marine advisor at Petersburg who has helped organize eight summits over 12 years. “I’m starting to feel like we are influencing a generation a little bit,” she said, adding that it’s a fast-paced three days of learning and networking. “We start by giving new entrants into commercial fisheries the opportunity to meet each other so they can connect, and then they meet people who have been established in the industry for a long time and glean information from them.” The summit focuses on three themes, with an emphasis on the business of running a fishing operation. How Alaska seafood fits into the global picture is another topic, Rice said. That will include the views of the PCC Market group, the nation’s largest consumer owned food cooperative based in Seattle since 1953. “Their focus is on sustainability and they love Alaska seafood,” Rice said. The summit also digs into the fishery regulatory process. “How do you participate in the Board of Fisheries, what do you need to know when a decision is being made at the council level that impacts your business?” she explained. “How you can get on your local harbor board, be a part of your (Regional Seafood Development Association) or your (Community Development Quota group) or your local Fish and Game Advisory Committee.” A changing climate’s impacts on fisheries also is on the agenda and Rice said she’s surprised at how many fishermen now call it their top concern for the future. The Juneau event also let’s summit-goers meet with Alaska legislators at the start of the session. Discounts apply for sign ups through January 7th. AMSEA also is offering a free Fishing Vessel Drill Conductor class in conjunction with the Summit. AK Young Fishermen’s Almanac Personal glimpses that chronicle the fishing life make up the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac and Volume 2 is available now. The 124-page book contains 50 submissions from across Alaska. “The almanac serves as a cultural touchstone for a community that not a lot of people outside of that community can find a window into. For people who fish it’s a really great community builder. And people who don’t can get a window into this livelihood and why it’s important and worth preserving,” said Jamie O’Connor of Homer, a fisherman who heads the working waterfront and young fishermen’s programs for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The first almanac last year was so popular it covered the costs for Volume 2 and it may go to a second printing. “Last time there were lots of really cool photos and this time we still got great photos, but a lot more original art and written pieces which is really exciting,” O’Connor said.” The Almanac is modeled after a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792. Find the AK Young Fishermen’s Almanac at local stores, community events and online at www.akmarine.org . ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ADFG deals decks of rockfish playing cards

Go Fish! A deck of clever playing cards is teaching people about one of Alaska’s most popular yet fragile fishing favorites: rockfish. During games players can learn how to identify the 48(!) different kinds of rockfish found in Alaska waters and how some, like rougheye, can live beyond 200 years. “Shortraker, the 10 of diamonds, can live 157 years. Yelloweye live 118 years and are sexually mature at around 22 years. Black rockfish mature at six or seven years and can live to be 50 years,” said Andrew Olson, Alaska Department of Fish and Game groundfish and shellfish coordinator for the Southeast region, who helped design the deck. Along with identification and biology, the cards also tell fishing rules for sport and commercial fishermen and alerts them about protective gear that will be required next year. Rockfish brought up from waters deeper than 65 feet often suffer from decompression trauma due to their having unvented swim bladders and can literally turn inside out. In 2020, all saltwater anglers will be required to use “descender” gear (the 2 of hearts) to re-submerge the fish. “They must have a functioning deep water release mechanism on board and all rockfish not harvested must be released at a depth of capture or at a depth of 100 feet,” Olson explained. State managers wagered cards were a good way to get those messages directly into the hands of fishermen. “When you go on boats there’s typically a deck of cards on board to keep people busy,” Olson said. The cards come at a time when plans are underway to better align rockfish management between the sport and commercial sectors. In 2017, ADFG began a statewide initiative to develop long-term strategies for rockfish with a focus on black rockfish and yelloweye. “Historically, rockfish caught by sport anglers and commercial fishermen were managed differently by the sport fish and commercial fisheries divisions. This worked fine for decades, but changes in fishing pressure on different species, fish regimes and populations — including rockfish, salmon, halibut, and Pacific cod — have led to more alignment in management between the divisions. “Because rockfish are known to be particularly vulnerable to exploitation, and harvests are believed to be increasing in recent years, proactive measures are needed,” wrote Riley Woodford in the December Alaska Fish and Wildlife News. These changes are occurring along the entire Pacific coast, Woodford added, and state and federal agencies are collaborating on rockfish education efforts. Thirty-thousand decks of the rockfish playing cards were made by U.S. Playing Cards at a cost of about a dollar a piece. Artist Kellii Wood of Petersburg did the anatomy drawings and decorated the card backs, Olson said, and Ray Troll’s quirky artwork adorns the Jokers. “One says Rockfish, Paper, Scissors with a picture of a yelloweye, and the other one looks like a black rockfish with ‘rock’ highlighted because it has a guitar,” Olson said. The cards have only been in circulation for a few weeks and he said the reaction has been very enthusiastic. “People have said they didn’t realize how old some of these rockfish are, how long it takes them to reach maturity; the fact that we have so many species in Alaska was, I think, shocking. Some folks have said they are using the cards to learn about a rockfish per day and get familiar with them,” Olson said. “It’s a fun and engaging way to interact with the public and express concerns we’re having with rockfish and where we’re making improvements.” The rockfish cards are available for free at ADFG offices at Kodiak, Anchorage, Homer, Douglas/Juneau headquarters, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell and Sitka. Fishing for fees Fewer Alaska fishermen are going after halibut and sablefish, based on the declining number of bills being sent out to those holding shares of the catch. Some 1,800 invoices went out to fishermen this month, down 30 from last year, and reflecting a decline from nearly 2,000 in 2015. The bills, paid annually in those two fisheries since the year 2,000, cover costs of the management, data collection, and enforcement of any limited access privilege, or LAP, fishery overseen by the federal government. They are based on a 1 to 3 percent tax assessed on dock prices averaged across the state. This year the 3 percent fee for both halibut and sablefish (up from 2.8 percent) yielded $4.5 million in recovery costs. A sinking sablefish market brought down the value of the two fisheries, despite an uptick for halibut. “The combined value of the halibut and sablefish fisheries this year was $150 million, which reflects a 7 percent decrease over last year’s value of $161 million,” said Carl Greene, Cost Recovery Fee Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. The Alaska halibut harvest of 16.5 million pounds was valued at more than $87 million. For sablefish a catch of 21 million pounds was worth about $63 million at the docks. “The sablefish dock prices were down about 20 percent to average $2.96 down from $3.68 in 2018,” Greene said. Conversely, the value of the halibut fishery was up 3 percent and dock prices remained stable. “It was mainly due to the volume of the fishery,” he said. “The change in pounds went up by 4 percent this year and the halibut dock price held stable. It was $5.30 a pound versus $5.35 for 2018.” Homer retained its title of Alaska’s top halibut port followed closely by Kodiak, Seward, Sitka and Petersburg. The Bering Sea crab fisheries also operate under a catch share system and since 2005 have chipped in for coverage costs. NOAA Fisheries doesn’t track dock prices for Bering Sea crab, only the total value of the fishery. The 2018-19 season was valued at $178 million for 17 fishing co-op groups, a $14 million increase. Greene said crabbers paid a fee of just less than 2 percent for fishery coverages, yielding $3 million. Since 2016, nearly 20 big boats fishing for flatfish, pollock, cod and other groundfish in the Bering Sea, including vessels owned/operated by Western Alaska Community Development Quota, or CDQ, groups, have been paying about $2 million in coverage costs, at a tax rate of less than 1 percent. “The costs to enforce those fisheries is much less relative to the total value of the fishery, so it’s been under one percent since we started the program in 2016. There’s a lot fewer boats and entities to monitor,” Greene explained. Seafood snapshot Alaska’s seafood industry is driven by more than 9,000 fishing vessels including about 100 large catcher processors and 100 large shoreside plants. Alaska is home to six of the nation’s top 10 ports by value and the industry generates more than $150 million in public revenue annually. Seafood accounts for the largest manufacturing sector in the state. Those are some of industry updates compiled by the McDowell Group. Other findings: Alaska’s seafood industry puts 58,700 people to work and generates $2.1 billion in wages and $5.6 billion in economic output. Alaska’s biggest catch is pollock and its most valuable is salmon. The volume of Alaska’s catches averaged 5.8 billion pounds for 2017 and 2018 with pollock contributing 58 percent, followed by salmon at 14 percent. Flatfish and rockfish comprised 13 percent of the catch volume and cod at 12 percent. The dockside value of Alaska’s catches totaled $2 billion with salmon accounting for 33 percent of the value. Halibut, sablefish and crab combined for 24 percent, Alaska pollock was at 23 percent and cod accounted for 11 percent of the total harvest value. Nearly 800 million pounds of more than 40 species of flatfish, rockfish and Atka mackerel were caught in 2018 worth $440 million. About 85 percent of Alaska’s seafood is sold frozen. Headed and gutted whole fish make up 41 percent of the value, with fillets at 20 percent. Only 3 percent of Alaska’s seafood goes into cans. About 80 percent of Alaska seafood is exported; export value fell 4 percent in 2018. Alaska’s 3.4 billion pound pollock catch last year was worth $1.5 billion to fishermen last year. Alaska’s cod supplies are at a 20-year low and declining; red king crab harvests are at a 50-year low. Alaska accounts for just 10 to 15 percent of the global red king crab supply and less than 10 percent of snow crab supply. The biggest uncertainties facing Alaska’s seafood industry: changing ocean conditions and ongoing trade disputes. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Seaweed farming continues to expand with training grant

Weed is set to give a big boost to Alaska’s blue economy! The interest in growing seaweeds in Alaska is gaining momentum and training more farmers is the goal of a program starting next February in Kodiak, Sitka and Ketchikan. The training is phase two of the 2014 Alaska Mariculture Initiative that aims to grow a $100 million industry in 20 years. “We’re doing this training because there is immense interest from coastal communities and commercial fishermen,” said Riley Smith, development director with the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, or AFDF, which helped spearhead the mariculture push. The training program is funded by a $287,646 grant by the federal Saltonstall-Kennedy program for two years. Alaska’s first kelp farm permits were issued in 2016 at Kodiak and now 21 growers have added dulce, nori and sea lettuce to their macroalgae startup menus. The fledgling kelp harvest has gone from 16,000 pounds in 2017 to nearly 90,000 pounds last year, nearly all from Kodiak. Growers were paid 45 cents per pound for sugar kelp and 90 cents for ribbon kelp for crops with a six-month turnover. (Check out the pasta products made from Kodiak kelp at www.blueevolution.com). Through 2019, Alaskans have applied for more than 2,000 acres of new or expanding undersea farms, double the footprint from two years ago, according to Cynthia-Pring Ham, aquatic farming coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game which issues the permits. ADFG partners with the Department of Natural Resources, which leases the lands where aquatic farming takes place. “In 2016 the state only received four applications for aquatic farms, and in 2017, 2018 and 2019, they received 16, 17 and 14 applications for a total of 47 in three years,” Smith said. “And it’s important to note that all of these applications were for oysters, seaweed or both.” “It’s a really good fit with our existing fishery infrastructure,” Sam Rabung, director of the ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division, said in a previous conversation. “We have an ocean workforce of fishing communities, vessels, fishermen, processors that in many cases get used in a kind of boom and bust manner. This gives an additional shoulder to a season.” Rabung, who began researching kelp in Japan in the 1980s and has worked in salmon enhancement and mariculture in Alaska for over 35 years, called diversification into seaweed farming “the biggest change to the industry I’ve seen in the last five years.” “I can’t see a single downside to it,” he said. “The giant kelp that we’re focusing on in Alaska right now, the brown algae, provides everything from food to nutritional supplements to feed supplements for animals, to biofuels, soil amendments and everything in between.” Now it’s time to prime more Alaskans to accelerate seaweed farming around the state. “The purpose of the training is to provide the tools to Alaskans to start their own farms,” Smith said. Ten applicants will be accepted for each training region and combined with online webinars and two-day onsite visits, they will cover a lot of ground from identifying seaweed species to navigating the permit process to business plans and harvesting techniques. Information and instruction will be provided by GreenWave, Alaska Sea Grant, DNR, ADFG, Blue Evolution, OceansAlaska, AFDF and others. The training sessions are free and food and materials are provided, but participants must pay for their own travel and lodging if they live out of town. The most promising six growers will be selected for two year mentoring. “One of the important things we hope to get out of this is more quality applications to DNR. So, the education on site selection and the application process is going to be a huge part of this,” Smith said. “The way our statutes are written aquatic farming is the lowest priority use of coastal waters,” Rabung explained. “When we review a farm permit, we’re looking at its compatibility with existing uses as one of the criteria, such as fisheries. We can’t put farms in places that are traditional seine hook offs or troll drags or dive fisheries or subsistence harvest areas. So we have to do all these reviews and see if we can find ways to reconfigure a footprint or adjust its siting to make sure that things are compatible.” Applicants also must be aware of navigational hazards and marine mammal haul outs when they are siting their farms. As the fledgling algae industry develops, state planners are encouraging some growers to form clusters to “really get things going.” “Getting a larger number of farms concentrated around a hub area to get the synergy to create that critical mass and reduce the cost of logistics, transports, and support services that the farms need,” Rabung explained. “We need it to become a company, an industry. That’s where the state will see its biggest benefit.” So far two Alaska processors, Ocean Beauty and Silver Bay Seafoods, are involved in the new industry. “They need to know there is enough steady volume to make sure it’s worthwhile,” Rabung added. Smith said the emerging mariculture industry has strong interest and support from Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. “I think that the administration sees the potential for providing jobs to Alaska and diversifying economies in coastal communities,” he said. Applications for the seaweed farm training sessions are due to AFDF by December 20th. Apply online at www.afdf.org or contact [email protected] Seaweed at Sand Point and beyond Sand Point will be home to Alaska’s farthest west seaweed startup beginning next year. With an assist by Alaska Sea Grant and the Aleutians East Borough, growers plan to test run two different kelp species and harvest them in the spring of 2021. “Our hope is that we can develop an innovative type of farm that can withstand our weather conditions,” said Melissa Good, a Sea Grant agent in Unalaska, speaking to KFSK in Petersburg. “We are living within an extreme environment; they call it the birthplace of the winds for a very good reason. So, we need to show that this can be done here.” “People also are calling from St. Paul and St. George in the Bering Sea,” said Julie Decker, AFDF executive director. “They want to know what they need to do to get started.” The is projected to top $22 billion by 2024, with human consumption as the largest segment. Growers in Maine fetch 50 to 60 cents per pound for edible grades; their rock weed crop brings in $20 million per year. Chile estimates a kelp industry would bring in $540 million annually. And Japan’s $2 billion nori industry is one of the world’s most valuable crops. Seaweed also benefits the planet by absorbing five times more carbon from the atmosphere than land-based plants. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut survey data released; Symphony winners announced

Lower catches for Pacific halibut are in the forecast for the foreseeable future. That was the message from the International Pacific Halibut Commission at its meeting last week in Seattle. The IPHC oversees halibut stock research and sets catch limits for nine fishing regions ranging from Northern California and British Columbia to the Bering Sea. There are fewer of the prized flatfish (down 4 percent), they weigh less (down 5 percent) and no big pulses appear to be coming into the stock was the grim summary of the 2019 halibut fishery and the results of summer long surveys at nearly 1,370 fishing stations, including 89 added to the Central Gulf of Alaska, the biggest halibut fishing hole. The numbers of spawning halibut also appeared to continue their decline over the past year, said IPHC lead scientist Ian Stewart. “This has been predicted for several years. This is projected to continue for all 2020 TCEYs greater than approximately 18.4 million pounds,” Stewart said. “It’s essentially the breakeven point over the next three years. So, we’re looking at a period of relatively low productivity for the Pacific halibut stock over the next three years.” TCEY, or total constant exploitation yield, is the amount of removals of halibut longer than 26 inches for commercial, recreational, sports charter, subsistence and bycatch in other fisheries. For 2019, the coastwide TCEY was 38.61 million pounds. Stewart added that more female fish are showing up in the stock and lower halibut yields will be necessary to “reduce higher fishing intensity.” “The primary driver behind that has been the addition of new information about the sex ratio of the commercial fishery catch that has indicated that we’ve probably been fishing this stock harder than we thought, historically,” he said. Fishing the stock harder includes the halibut taken as bycatch in other fisheries. “The non-directed discards, meaning bycatch, was up from a little over 6 million pounds to a little over 6.4 million pounds,” Stewart said. In the Bering Sea, for example, there is a fixed cap totaling 7.73 million pounds of halibut allowed to be taken as bycatch for trawlers, longliners and pot boats targeting other fish, with most going to trawlers. The cap stays the same, regardless of changes in the halibut stock. This year, after four years of analyses and deliberation, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council began moving towards a new “abundance based” management plan that would tie bycatch levels to the health of the halibut stock as determined by annual surveys. (Prior to that, the issue had not been discussed for 20 years.) Meanwhile, bycatch allowances, combined with new rules in setting halibut catch limits, could mean Bering Sea communities get squeezed out of the upcoming fishery. “Last year the IPHC agreed to two allocation decisions that this year may hamstring efforts to provide enough halibut for Area 4CDE (the central Bering Sea) to even go fishing,” said Peggy Parker, director of the Halibut Association of North America and contributor to SeafoodNews.com. “The first decision was to provide a fixed minimum of 1.65 million pounds to Area 2A (Washington, Oregon, and California). The second was a formula for the Canadian allocation that was designed to mitigate their current and future losses from the trawl bycatch in the Bering Sea. That bycatch increased this year, which threw last year’s projections off and will likely result in lower catches to that area next year,” Parker added. “Having fixed minimum allocations to Area 2A and 2B (British Columbia) will increase the difficulty in providing enough halibut to merit a fishery, in the eyes of quota holders, next year. It is a zero-sum game in the midst of a declining stock where Alaska becomes the only place with wiggle room.” It’s déjà vu for Jeff Kauffman of St. Paul, where emergency measures were implemented in 2015 to enable a halibut fishery to open in the region and fishermen’s catch limits were slashed to a half-million pounds. “There has been a de facto reallocation from the directed fisheries to the bycatch fisheries,” he said at the time. “Conservation of the stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen.” The North Pacific council will set halibut bycatch limits for 2020 during its Dec. 2-10 meeting in Anchorage. The IPHC will reveal the catch limits for the halibut fishery during its annual meeting Feb. 3-7, also in Anchorage. Fish watch The Pacific halibut fishery ended on Nov. 14 amidst little fanfare. Most dock prices ticked up during the eight-month fishery, hovering in the $5 to $6 per pound range, likely due to bad weather hampering landings of competing halibut from Canada. “Their hurricanes and everything may have disrupted some of the fisheries there and allowed some of the product from Alaska to make it into those higher end East Coast markets. So we got a little better price,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits at Homer. Better dock prices have not boosted the market for halibut quota shares, which are down by a third or more from sky high levels two years ago and appear to have stabilized. Shares in Southeast, for example, that topped $70 per pound are now in the $55 range or less. In the Central Gulf, halibut Individual Fishing Quotas, or IFQs, are at about $45 per pound. “For the last 15 years or so the resource has been in general decline. There have been some minor increases over the years, but mostly the trend has been downward,” Bowen said. “I think folks are kind of tired of buying something that gets cut the next year and is worth less. They’re buying an asset that’s declining in value. Many times over the last few years folks have thought that this must be the bottom and it would be a great time to buy: get in and ride it back up, and that hasn’t happened.” The 2019 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery ended last week with a catch of just less than 3.8 million pounds. Crabbers averaged 15.6 crabs per pot pull, the least since 2005, and down from 20 crab in the last two seasons. The crabs were hefty, weighing 7.14 pounds on average, the highest since 1973. That’s cause for concern, said Ethan Nichols, assistant area manager for the Bering Sea region for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “We’ve seen average weight increasing for several years now. We think we are fishing on the same group of adult male crab who are a year older and heavier,” he told KUCB in Unalaska, adding that not many small crabs are recruiting into the fishery. “If we had a better mix of small crab, we would see a lower average weight. What is coming in is mostly large older males.” Symphony of Seafood winners A fish and chips meal kit featuring Alaska cod was the fan favorite in the first round of the Alaska Symphony of Seafoods competition held during Pacific Marine Expo. The snappy kit by Alaskan Leader Seafoods won the coveted Seattle People’s Choice Award. “It’s really a lot of fun. You’ve got the French fries, the batter, the panko and the fish, which of course is Alaska cod,” said Keith Singleton, head of the value added division. In all, 20 new Alaska seafood products debuted at the Expo contest. The event, hosted for 27 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, showcases a diverse array of innovative items and levels the playing field between major companies and small ‘mom and pops.’ Other first place winners selected by a panel of judges: In the retail category, it was Bullwhip Kelp Salsa by Juneau-based Barnacle Seafoods. Southern Style Alaska Wild Wings made from Alaska pollock by High Liner Foods of Canada took top honors in Food Service. In the Beyond the Plate Category, Juneau-based WILD by Nature’s Alaskan Fin Fish Earrings won first place. That category was added four years ago to open doors for new things made from seafood byproducts. “It can be anything,” said Julie Decker, AFDF executive director. “Things that are edible such as fish oil capsules, or nonedible things such as salmon leather wallets.” Pet treats from Drool Central, an Anchorage “mum and pup barkery,” could be among more winners to be announced on Feb. 24 at the annual Symphony of Seafood and UFA Legislative bash in Juneau. That and other entries such as kelp pickles, smoked octopus, and blueberry cured gravlax are vying for second and third place awards. The overall grand prize winner also will be named at the Juneau event. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permits fluctuating based on 2019 harvests

The value of Alaska salmon permits has ticked upwards in regions that experienced a good fishery this year while others have tanked. Not surprisingly, the record sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay has boosted sales of driftnet permits to nearly $200,000, up from the mid-$170,000 range prior to the 2019 season. Another strong run forecast of 48.9 million sockeyes for 2020 with a projected harvest of 36.9 million could increase the value even more, said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. What’s really raising eyebrows, Bowen said, is values for driftnet permits at Area M (False Pass) on the Alaska Peninsula where lots of people want in and not many want out. “We sold one at $235,000 which is amazing; $40,000 more than a Bay permit,” Bowen said. Listings by other brokers reflect the same trend with Area M seine permits also commanding more than $180,000. Wanting in are fishermen at Cook Inlet where another poor season has seen the value of driftnet permits plummet. “They got up as high as $40,000 before the season, we’ve sold a couple at $28,000 and they are down around $25,000 to $26,000,” Bowen said. “You have folks in Cook Inlet that have hung on for years and they’re trying to get out and go to Area M or Bristol Bay where they can hopefully make a living.” At Kodiak, which had a strong 2019 fishery, the value of seine permits value increased for the first time in many years from $30,000 to $40,000. The Kodiak fishery produced more than 36 million salmon, well better than the 10-year average of 21 million fish, of which nearly 33 million were pinks. The value to fishermen was nearly $46 million compared to the recent 10-year average of $38 million. A fleet of 176 seiners accounted for most of the harvest with each averaging $227,552 per permit, an increase of $80,000 versus 2018. Conversely, at Prince William Sound seine permit values remain lackluster in the $175,000 range with drifts upwards of $145,000. The estimated preliminary dockside value of the total salmon harvest was nearly $114 million, an increase of about $19 million from 2018. Contrary to expectations, Southeast Alaska had a disappointing salmon fishery that has put a downward press on permit prices. “With the preseason optimism there, the Southeast drift was around $90,000 to $92,000. We have one now at $87,000 so that’s a lower asking price than what the preseason sales were. But there is no action there,” Bowen said, adding that Southeast seine cards are holding at $230,000 also with little activity. Southeast’s 2019 salmon fishery was valued at less than $102 million compared to nearly $134 million in 2018. Meanwhile, the Panhandle is projected to see pink salmon numbers catches plummet next summer. State fishery managers are forecasting a 2020 catch of just 12 million pinks, one-third of the 10 year average, and down from 21 million taken in 2019. An advisory from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated: “It is possible that drought conditions present in Southeast Alaska from the parent year 2018 spawn through the spring of 2019 reduced spawning success or negatively impacted overwinter survival of developing juvenile salmon, but the exact reasons for the low juvenile abundance are not known.” It added: “Like many recent years, a potential source of uncertainty regarding the 2020 pink salmon return is the anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska in 2019. Compared to sea surface temperatures since 1997, when NOAA first started the Southeast Coastal Monitoring project, surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska in 2019, immediately offshore of Southeast Alaska, were the warmest of the time series in July, the 4th warmest in August, and 3rd warmest in September.” Uni undone Uni, or roe from sea urchins, is a popular delicacy with sushi lovers but it draws little interest by Alaska harvesters. Alaska has a red urchin fishery in Southeast with a harvest guideline of 3.5 million pounds, although that number is based on older stock surveys, said Phil Doherty, co-director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association. “That’s a bit of a ghost guideline average level, because there aren’t that many sea urchins still here,” he said, adding that since the 1980s and ‘90s the bulk of the urchin beds have been wiped out by sea otters. “That’s the No. 1 factor in the lack of production in Southeast, and there’s nothing that’s going to happen here in the foreseeable future to change that,” he added. A second reason for the lack of interest, Doherty said, is the difficulty in getting the delicate uni from the softball sized urchins to Japanese markets in top condition. “The Japanese market is very particular on how seafood looks and it’s very difficult to crack open the urchins and get the roe out and pack it into special containers and get it onto the airlines and over to Japan, which is the main market,” he explained. For the most recent Southeast harvest of about 700,000 pounds of red urchins in 2015, a handful of divers got 49 cents a pound. Smaller, hockey puck sized green urchins found around Kodiak are preferred over the reds, but a lack of markets also has stalled fishing interest there. There’s been no urchin harvest since 2001, said Nat Nichols area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. “It’s not that the harvest stopped because we had concerns about the stock – it was largely market driven. I think the major barrier for even a small scale fishery is finding a market and getting them there in good condition,” he said. In the 1980s, landings of green urchins reached about 80,000 pounds; now the harvest limit is 55,000 pounds. Only one Kodiak permit was issued last year and this year by a diver collecting samples for potential buyers. Nichols said urchin uni is now more familiar to U.S. buyers and perhaps there might be interest from more local markets. “If you could develop a smaller local market, that would alleviate the issue of getting bigger loads of product sent out in good condition,” he said. “That might spur more participation.” Ocean awards The Alaska Sealife Center is accepting nominations through Dec. 10 to recognize those who have made special contributions to ocean sciences, education and management. Awards and cash prizes will be given in five categories, including for youths aged 12 to 19. Nominations can be made online at alaskasealife.org or by email at [email protected] Tongass correction In the comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and proposed rollback of the Tongass roadless rule, more than 80,000 comments have been received so far; not more than 140,000 as was previously stated. According to Paul Robbins, Jr., U.S. Forest Service/Tongass public affairs officer, those comments were from the scoping period last year and were not in reference to the current proposed rule. Comments are now being accepted online through Dec. 17, by email to [email protected]/ or by mail to the US Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, 99802. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Overall salmon value jumps in 2019; Kodiak gets Tanner fishery

Alaska’s 2019 salmon season was worth $657.6 million to fishermen, a 10 percent increase from the 2018 fishery. Sockeye salmon accounted for nearly 64 percent of the total value, topping $421 million, and 27 percent of the harvest at 55.2 million fish. Those are the lead takeaways in a summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that reveals preliminary estimates of salmon harvests and values by region. The final values will be determined in 2020 after processors, buyers, and direct marketers submit their totals paid to fishermen. Pink salmon were the second most valuable species representing 20 percent of the total dockside value at $128.6 million, and 62 percent of the harvest at just more than 129 million fish. Chum salmon accounted for 10 percent of the value at $63.8 million and 9 percent of the harvest at 18.5 million. Coho salmon contributed about 5 percent of the fishery value at $29.6 million and 2 percent of the harvest at 3.8 million fish. The chinook salmon harvest of just more than 272,000 was worth $14.4 million to fishermen, the third lowest value since limited entry began in 1975. Salmon prices for 2019 took a dip for all but sockeyes, which averaged $1.45 per pound, an increase from $1.33. The average price for chinook was $4.48 per pound, down from $5.98 in 2018. Cohos at $1.15 dropped from $1.34; pink salmon at 30 cents declined from 45 cents, and chums at 49 cents took a big dip from the 78 cents paid on average last year. The price drops, especially for pinks and chums, likely stemmed from the huge Russian harvest that was expected to approach 1.8 billion pounds this year. That compares to a 2019 Alaska salmon catch of just more than 872 million pounds. Average salmon weights this year were 11.84 pounds for chinook, up from 11.59 pounds in 2018. Sockeye weight of 5.24 pounds was down slightly from 5.26 pounds. Coho salmon averaged 6.77 pounds, down from 7.42; pinks averaged 3.27 pounds, down from 3.76 and chum weight at 7.07 pounds declined from 8 pounds on average. At Southeast Alaska, fishermen caught 32.2 million salmon valued at more than $101.8 million. That compares to 21.2 million fish valued at $133.6 million in 2018. Prince William Sound fishermen harvested 57.75 million salmon this valued at just under $115 million. Last year’s take was just more than 29 million fish valued at nearly $95 million. At Cook Inlet, fishermen caught more than 4.3 million salmon valued at nearly $23 million. That’s a slight improvement over the nearly 3.3 million fish valued at $18 million in 2018. Bristol Bay fishermen had a total salmon catch of nearly 44.5 million salmon of which almost 43 million were sockeyes. The value of more than $306.5 million was a record and compares to 43.5 million fish worth $281 million at the docks in 2018. Kodiak’s salmon fishery produced 35.7 million fish valued at $47 million. That compares to fewer than 9 million salmon worth $27.8 million last year. At Chignik, fishermen fared far better with a catch of 3.5 million salmon valued at $8 million. Last year harvesters took just more than 1,000 salmon (only 128 sockeyes!) worth less than $4,000. At the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands region, a bumper catch of nearly 21 million pinks in the southern district pushed the total salmon catch to nearly 27 million salmon valued at more than $49 million. Last year fishermen there took just more than 6 million salmon worth more than $29 million. On the Yukon, fishermen took 561,644 fish, mostly chums, for a total fishery value topping $2.5 million. That compares to more than 1 million salmon valued at nearly $4.7 million in 2018. Norton Sound harvesters landed 381,124 salmon worth just more than $2 million at the docks. That compares to 540,796 salmon valued at $4 million last year. At Kotzebue, fishermen caught 493,340 salmon, nearly all chums, valued at more than $1.5 million. That’s down from 695,000 fish last year, worth nearly $2.3 million at the docks. Once again, there was no salmon fishing opportunity for fishermen at the Kuskokwim. The region’s Community Development Quota group, Coastal Villages Region Fund, abruptly closed its plant at Platinum a few years ago. No buyer means no commercial salmon fishing. Kodiak gets some crab It’s a go for Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery, albeit a small one, but better catches aren’t far off. The mid-January fishery will have a combined 400,000 pounds catch limit in two areas, the minimum to open a fishery. At average weights of 2.2 pounds, the fishery should produce 182,000 crabs. That’s down from a harvest of 615,000 pounds last season. Crabbers are tapping on the tail end of a big Tanner year class from 2013, said Natura Richardson, assistant area manager for the westward region at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office at Kodiak. “The east side’s going to have a 300,000-pound harvest and the southeast is going to have 100,000 pounds. And particularly on the east side, this definitely is fishing on the same crab that they’ve been targeting for the last two seasons,” she explained. “We first saw this big cohort from 2013 in the survey, and that’s what we fished on in 2018 and 2019. And 2020 is probably going to be the last hit on this specific cohort. Despite the low catch, she said managers don’t expect the fishery to go fast. “We don’t have any conservation concerns because there are so many mature crabs in the water that we still feel that we are leaving a good standing stock to reproduce,” she said. (Only mature male crabs can be retained for sale.) “But because of that people are going to be seeing a lot of non- target crab and not as many legal crabs, so it is probably not going to be really hot and heavy with high catches per pot. I think that it’s going to be a little bit more work to get to the legal males.” Looking ahead, the future bodes well for westward region Tanners. Surveys have been tracking the biggest pulse of crab they’ve ever seen for several years, and the crabs seem to be growing faster than usual. It can take more than five years for the crab to grow to harvestable size. “The next pulse in the water has definitely retained,” Richardson said. “We saw them in the survey last year and again this year. So we have a lot of hope that they will continue to track through the population. They have survived at a higher rate relative to the previous 2013 pulse, so that definitely looks promising for future fisheries.” The big pulse of crab should enter the fishery within a couple of years. Richardson agreed that the 80 percent cod crash in the Gulf last year might be a reason that the recruits are showing better survival, as cod eat lots of small crab. Fisheries at Chignik and the South Peninsula will remain closed although the outlook for those regions appears hopeful. Last season 82 crabbers dropped pots for Tanners at Kodiak. The statewide average price was $3.94 per pound. By the way, Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol “T” because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross that explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Roadless Rule repeal gets pushback; halibut data on tap

The federal government’s plan to raze more roads through the Tongass National Forest is facing strong headwinds from fishermen, Native groups and coastal communities throughout Southeast Alaska. More than 220 Southeast Alaskan fishermen signed a letter to the Trump Administration last week opposing the abrupt push to exempt the Tongass National Forest from a “Roadless Rule” in place for over a decade. The exemption would release more than 9 million acres from protection and open nearly 200,000 acres to logging. The U.S. Forest Service made the announcement on October 15 that it is seeking a full exemption from rules that ban more road building in the nation’s largest forest. Alaska would be the only state exempted from the current federal law. The fishermen’s letter, spearheaded by the Sitka Conservation Society and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, was sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue telling him that fishing is the backbone of local economies and it relies on intact watersheds and salmon spawning grounds in the Tongass, which produces 80 percent of the salmon caught in the Southeast region. The push has quickly generated support from other fronts. The Skagway Borough Assembly passed a resolution last week in support of maintaining the Roadless Rule, citing, among other things, the impact logging could have on tourism. “I wonder what happens to that experience when cruise ships are passing by clear cut areas, or when cruise ships dock in a port and people take a flight through an area that has been clear cut or a place that you used to be able to fish like I’ve done in Baranoff that you can no longer do because the stream has been compromised,” said Mayor Andrew Cremata as reported by radio station KHNS. Likewise, six tribal governments issued a joint statement condemning the roadless exemption. They include the Angoon Cooperative Association, Central Council of Tlingit &Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Hoonah Indian Association, Hydaburg Cooperative Association, and the Villages of Kake and Kasaan. Their statement accused the federal agencies of ignoring the concerns of the tribes and said they were “deeply disappointed” by the process, according to the Juneau Empire. The roll back of the Roadless Rule has the strong support of Alaska’s congressional delegation and “every statewide elected official in Alaska supports an exemption from the regulation,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a Sept. 25 opinion piece in the Washington Post called “Why I support Trump’s proposal to lift restrictions in the Tongass.” “The one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule is an unnecessary layer of paralyzing regulation that should never have been applied to Alaska,” Murkowski wrote, adding that the rule has hurt the timber industry and also affects “mining, transportation, energy and more.” “When combined with national monument and other natural-setting land-use designations, more than 13 million acres of the Tongass are already explicitly restricted from resource development or are required to be managed as roadless areas. That’s nearly 80 percent of the forest,” Murkowski wrote. “It is also critical to understand that all of the designations listed above, and all of the protections they afford, will apply to the Tongass regardless of what happens with the Roadless Rule.” That doesn’t convince Sitka fisherman Eric Jordan, who was highly critical of the way in which the Forest Service began working on new rules shortly after Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy met with Donald Trump aboard Air Force One in July. (That meeting also resulted in the abrupt pullback of proposed protections for the Bristol Bay watershed by the EPA.) “Their record is one of irresponsible top down management without listening to their constituents,” Jordan said in a phone interview, adding that more people are actively meeting to make sure their voices are heard. “People are taking notice of the draconian policies of this state and Trump’s leadership and there’s going to be consequences at the polls and in the courts,” Jordan said. “There will not be logging activities that they are envisioning because we’re going to tie it up in courts and demonstrations forever.” The Forest Service has so far received over 140,000 public comments on the proposed Tongass Roadless Rule with the majority being opposed to the change. Comments are being accepted through Dec. 17 or by email to [email protected]/ Comments also can be sent to USDA Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau 99802. Halibut happenings In a few weeks, the researchers who oversee and set the catch limits for the Pacific halibut stock will reveal how the fishery could play out next year. The interim meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission will take place Nov. 25-26 in Seattle. Nearly all of the documents related to the fishery are now posted including updates on the summer survey, minus stock assessments. That information will be revealed by Nov. 22. The Pacific halibut resource is modeled as a single stock and each year’s survey is divided into 31 regions extending from Northern California to British Columbia and the far reaches of the Bering Sea. From June through August, 18 longliners this year participated in surveys of nearly 1,370 stations, including 89 added to the Central Gulf of Alaska. The survey boats used 407,000 pounds of chum salmon as bait and caught nearly 860,000 pounds of halibut during the summer survey. Most of the vessel contracts receive a lump sum payment plus a 10 percent share of the halibut proceeds. Data show how much the halibut fetched at all ports, ranging from $3.71 per pound at St. Paul to $7.76 at Cordova. The total coastwide catch of Pacific Halibut for 2019 was increased by 6 percent to nearly 25 million pounds. Alaska’s share was just less than 20 million pounds, a three million pound boost from 2018. The catch numbers for 2020 will be revealed at the IPHC’s annual meeting set for Feb. 3-7 at the Captain Cook Hotel Anchorage. The eight-month halibut fishery opens in March. Up next: Expo! The Pebble mine will be the keynote presentation at Pacific Marine Expo set for Nov. 21-23 in Seattle. “Pebble has gone from an Alaska issue to something that has really become important to everyone in the fishing and seafood communities. This is something that can impact a lot of people,” said Denielle Christensen, Expo director. “A panel will look at the environmental impact statement, the science behind it and what this might mean. We’ve even including a chef who feels quite passionate about understanding what to communicate to consumers about the Pebble Mine.” Fishing safety also will be showcased; the U.S Coast Guard will advise about changing fishing vessel safety requirements along with crossing hazardous bars. Historically, such crossings have been one of the biggest risks inherent with commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest. “Responders are going to cover everything from understanding bar condition reporting, how and when to request a Coast Guard escort and what they can expect during an escort,” Christensen explained. Over 400 Expo exhibiters are expected at the CenturyLink Center in Seattle. Other events include a Fishermen of the Year contest, Highliner Awards, Fisher Poets, daily happy hours and the first leg of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition where the top winners will be announced. See the Expo line up at www.pacificmarineexpo.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Otter impacts still frustrating Southeast divers, crabbers

They are certainly cute but the voracious appetites of sea otters continue to cause horrendous damage to some of Southeast Alaska’s most lucrative fisheries. How best to curtail those impacts will be the focus of a day-long stakeholders meeting set for November 6 in Juneau. “All of the people who have anything to do with the otters hopefully will all be in the same room at the same time,” said Phil Doherty, co-director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association based in Ketchikan. A 2011 report by the McDowell Group showed that otter predation on sea cucumbers, clams, urchins, crabs and other shellfish cost the Southeast economy nearly $30 million over 15 years. And their population has skyrocketed since then. Four hundred otters were reintroduced to Southeast by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from Amchitka Island in the 1960s after nearly being wiped out by fur traders at the turn of that century. The otters, which rose to nearly 26,000 in the latest assessment updated in 2014, are under federal protection and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The animals can grow up to 100 pounds and typically eat the equivalent of a quarter of their weight each day. Last year, at the urging of 20 Southeast towns, organizations and Native groups, the Alaska Senate passed a resolution asking for the state to take over otter management and to provide for more protections. “If the population continues to go unchecked, predation from sea otters inevitably threatens the future of dive and crab fisheries, jeopardizing hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in economic activity,” Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, wrote in a statement. One suggested solution has been to allow increased hunting by Native Alaskans, the only people allowed to do so, and lowering the Native blood “eligibility” to one-quarter of a percent. But Doherty said at a growth rate estimated at between 12 and 14 percent a year, hunting can’t keep up with the population. Another problem is restrictions on what Natives are allowed do with the otters they hunt. “The Marine Mammal Protection Act clearly states what Alaskan coastal Natives can do with sea otters,” Doherty explained. “They have to produce a finished product that is in the tradition of Native art and how they’ve used them over the years. They cannot harvest sea otters and sell just the pelt on the open market.” Patrick Lemons, Alaska chief of marine mammal management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last year that the Marine Mammal Protection Act limits the agency’s response and they cannot intervene to protect commercial fisheries until a species is at “optimum sustainable population.” The agency recently put the Southeast region’s otter carrying capacity at 77,000, Doherty said. “Until we’re at that carrying capacity, they will manage the sea otters in a very conservative mode. And once we get to 77,000 otters, we can kiss some of these industries goodbye, and it is not just the dive fisheries. The Dungeness crab fishery here in Southeast is being severely impacted and otters eat king and Tanner crab, so there’s going to be impacts on all of the shellfish fisheries.” While the upcoming meeting will provide a valuable exchange, Doherty is not optimistic about the outcomes. “Because the otters are so protected within the Marine Mammal Protection Act, I don’t think anything is going to change the tide of the sea otter population here in Southeast Alaska,” he said. The day long Nov. 6 otter meeting will take place at the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building in Juneau. It is free and open to the public. Pebble hearing in DC Threats posed to the Bristol Bay watershed by the proposed Pebble mine took center stage in Washington, D.C., at an Oct. 23 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Opponents are hopeful the hearing might help put the brakes on the Pebble permitting process. “If Pebble is developed, there is no doubt it will forever change who I am, who my people are, where I come from. And it will rob our children’s children of their right to continue being Native people as we have for thousands of years in Bristol Bay,” said Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. Alaska Public Radio’s Liz Ruskin was at the hearing and reported that Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier, the only witness to support the mine, “tilted back in his chair and looked at the ceiling as Hurley spoke.” Alaska Congressman Don Young, who has not taken a position on the mine, criticized the witnesses for “not being scientists.” In a video of the hearing, Young said: “You’re not listening to the science. You are saying a lot of what ifs. Can and cannots. Should we or shouldn’t we. And this committee has a responsibility to review those that are directly involved. Not those that may be affected about it. It’s about science.” Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., an outspoken Pebble critic, questioned the permitting process. He had especially harsh words about the way in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assessing the project, which many have criticized as being rushed and sloppy. “What I first want is a proper review and a proper comment period, and I don’t believe the Corps is doing either of those things,” he said at the hearing. “And I’m going to push them very hard to push back, even if Donald Trump is pushing on the other side.” DeFazio was referring to a pull back of special protections the EPA had proposed on the Bristol Bay watershed in 2014. The proposed restrictions were abruptly withdrawn this year on July 30 after Trump had a brief meeting with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. That EPA pullback has prompted three lawsuits against the EPA by nearly 20 diverse groups. Last week’s hearing is “typically the first step before an investigation on the permitting process is launched,” said Molly Dischner, communications director for United Tribes of Bristol Bay. The Pebble Partnership has spent more than $2 million on federal lobbying so far this year according to public disclosure forms, Liz Ruskin reported. A final environmental impact statement on the project is expected in January. Fish game changer Just as farmed salmon grown in sea cages toppled markets for wild fish a few decades ago, land-based farming is set to change the game again over the next decade. It will come in the form of recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS, and will cause even more disruption to world markets. That is the conclusion of Rabobank, a Netherlands-based leader in food and agriculture financing that is among the 30 largest groups in the world. A Rabobank report this month identified more than 50 RAS proposed projects around the world with an estimated output to equal 25 percent of current salmon production by the year 2030. That totals roughly 550 million pounds of fish; in comparison, Alaska’s 2018 salmon catch produced 605 million pounds of salmon. The report said most of the land-based farms are planned in Norway, but proposed production volumes are highest in the U.S. where six farms are planned. In the U.S. Maine is taking the lead where Portland-based company Whole Oceans has received two leases alongside and underneath the Penobscot River. It plans to break ground on a $180 million RAS facility next year and begin output of 11 million pounds of Atlantic salmon annually. The report said RAS could disrupt traditional ocean-based fish farming over the next 10 years adding “it’s not a question of if, but of how much.” Blue opportunity The Alaska Ocean Cluster, an arm of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, is seeking a manager for its Blue Pipeline Incubator, or BPI, in Seward. “This is a blended position made possible through a partnership between the Ocean Cluster, the City of Seward, the Seward Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center,” said Casey Rangel, program manager. The BPI Manager will oversee all operations of the incubator and will act as the liaison to Seward’s ocean-based industries. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field. Salary is $65,000 to $75,000+ commensurate with experience. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. Learn more at www.alaskaoceancluster.com/about/employment. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Kelp harvest rules under review; salmon summaries roll out

As more Alaskans eye the lucrative opportunities in growing kelp, many others are heading to beaches at Lower Cook Inlet to commercially harvest the detached bunches that wash ashore. That practice is now getting a closer look by state managers and scientists and could result in new regulations by year’s end. Detached kelp harvests have occurred at Lower Cook Inlet under special permits since the 1970s but matters of who needs permits, for how much and for what purposes are not clearly defined. Currently, a special permit is needed for commercial takes. “A commissioner’s permit is needed that describes where and when harvests will occur and how much will be taken. It needs to be documented thoroughly to make sure they are not taking the wrong species, or not taking from below the high tide line,” said Glenn Hollowell, area manager for finfish at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Homer. Owners of the Anchor Point Greenhouse, for example, take 6,000 to 7,000 pounds from local beaches each September and over four decades they’ve created a booming business for a potting soil blend that is sold statewide. In the past, the detached seaweed has been considered dead. More recently, it’s been discovered that many clumps continue to release live spores. Hollowell said that may mean it’s important to sustaining those kelp populations, and all that beached seaweed might also serve other purposes. “Whether this is for reproductive reasons, or to provide shelter and food for a variety of wild animals, as well as a carbon source. It does feed a lot of other ecological needs. And we’re just not certain that the wholesale removal of this stuff in large quantities might not have a negative impact on the ecosystem in general. So, we’re approaching this very cautiously,” he explained. The state Board of Fisheries will take up two detached and live kelp proposals at its Dec. 10-13 meeting in Seward. One (No. 21) submitted by Al Poindexter of the Anchor Point Greenhouse, aims to better identify the commercial harvest of detached kelp off of beaches. “First, Fish and Game does not know production rates of seaweed and what keeps it sustainable…Another issue is what is commercial or home use and what amounts are those?” Poindexter wrote. “For instance, I will collect 6 small pickups and it is called commercial, but my neighbor will collect 10 pickups for his berry patch and that is called home use. Another may just collect a bucket full for his flower patch. Who needs a permit and who doesn’t? And for what purpose? Does anyone get grandfathered in or who decides by what criteria, amounts, geographic area or timing? Parameters would be based on what data?” “At this time, I believe that out of all the folks who collect seaweed from the beach, I have been the only one who has been required to get a permit for this activity,” he concluded. Another proposal (No. 241) would allow for the personal use harvest of aquatic plants in the Cook Inlet area outside of subsistence areas, similar to rules the Fish Board created in Southeast Alaska last year. Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are working with ADFG to learn what happens when kelp is removed from areas and how such harvests affect rejuvenation. “The department wants to be very cautious as we start doing new things with it, to make sure that we don’t allow something we will later regret. It might cause damage to that kelp population, or to other species of invertebrates or vertebrates that utilize it such as birds and fish,” Hollowell said. The outcome of those projects, he added, will likely shape future regulations. Comments can be made to the Board of Fisheries through Nov. 25. Eating fish boosts IQ For centuries what’s been regarded as an old wives’ tale has claimed that fish is brain food. Now there’s more proof that eating seafood does indeed make you smarter. A report out last week by 13 leading dietary scientists declared that children whose mothers ate seafood during pregnancy gained an average 7.7 IQ points compared to children of moms who did not. The findings came after a review of 44 different studies since 2000 that included nearly 103,000 mother-offspring pairs and more than 25,000 children. The brain benefits began with just one serving of seafood per week during pregnancy, and the beneficial outcomes appeared on tests given as early as three days of age and as late as 17 years. Along with IQ, measures included verbal, visual and motor skill development. Four studies looked at hyperactivity and ADHD diagnoses and showed that kids of moms not eating seafood had nearly three times greater risk of hyperactivity. The findings follow a report this year from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said U.S. children are not eating enough seafood. Dr. Tom Brenna, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, said it’s the omega-3s in seafood that boost brain growth. “The brain and the retina in the eye are omega-3 organs,” he said. “You can say that as calcium is to the bones, omega 3 is to the brain.” Brenna agreed it’s been tough to get the message to a wider audience. “We don’t have a good a way of getting the word out. Maybe we should have a contest to find a nice tag line that would identify seafood in the same way as ‘Got Milk’ or ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,’” he added in a phone conversation. The IQ boost from eating fish report comes as the U.S. is updating its dietary guidelines through 2025. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet five times through March 2020 and written comments are being accepted until the committee completes its work. Salmon summaries Prince William Sound’s salmon harvest this summer came in at nearly 58 million fish, of which almost 50 million were pinks. The estimated fishery value was $114 million, including hatchery sales, and paid out at $81,600 per permit on average for the fleet of 504 drift gillnetters; 238 seiners averaged $218,000 per permit. Revenue generated for hatchery operations was approximately $18.6 million. At Copper River, a catch of nearly 1.3 million sockeye salmon was 28 percent more than the previous 10-year average, and the average sockeye weight of 5.5 pounds was the largest in the last five years. Those are just a few of the details in season summaries that will continue to trickle in by region to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. At Lower Cook Inlet the 2019 salmon catch totaled 2.4 million fish, of which nearly 2 million were pinks. The commercial harvest value of nearly $3.6 million was above the 10-year average of $2.4 million. At Norton Sound, 145 permits were fished this summer, the second highest since 1993, and the fishery value topped $2 million for the third year in a row. The region saw well above average runs of chums, pinks, sockeyes and coho salmon. The chum salmon harvest of 157,035 was the third highest in the last 35 years. At Alaska’s farthest north salmon fishery at Kotzebue the chum harvest topped 400,000 fish for only the tenth time ever for 93 participants. The value of more than $1.5 million was down a third from last year due to lower prices, but it was the fifth time since 1988 that it exceeded $1 million. Fishery managers at Bristol Bay were the first to come out with a season summary showing a preliminary fishery value at $306.5 million, an all-time record. A total take of 44.5 million salmon, of which 43 million were sockeyes, was the second largest in history since the 45.4 million fish taken in 1995. Salmon summaries from other regions will soon follow and yield the preliminary dockside value for the entire 2019 fishery. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Board of Fisheries work session kicks off annual meeting cycle

Hundreds of fishery stakeholders and scientists will gather in Anchorage next week as the state Board of Fisheries begins its annual meeting cycle with a two-day work session. The seven-member board sets the rules for the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. It meets four to six times each year in various communities on a three-year rotation; this year the focus is on Kodiak and Cook Inlet. The board and the public also will learn the latest on how a changing climate and off-kilter ocean chemistry are affecting some of Alaska’s most popular seafood items at an Oct. 23 “talk and Q&A” on ocean acidification, or OA, in Alaska. And they undoubtedly will be astounded to learn that despite salmon being Alaska’s most iconic fish, only two studies have looked at salmon response to OA, and both were conducted outside of Alaska. Most of the research to date has focused specifically on crab and fish stocks, said Bob Foy, director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Auke Bay lab in Juneau who will lead the Anchorage presentation. Ocean acidification is caused when carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere dissolves in the ocean, lowering the water’s pH level and making it more acidic. The imbalance prevents marine creatures from forming shells and skeletons, among other things. “We’ve found effects on Tanner crab and red king crab in the laboratory. Interestingly, on a positive note, we have found very little effect, if any, in the early life stages of juvenile snow crab. So, there’s some hope for that species,” Foy said. “For fish, we’ve found limited if any effects on pollock, but we have found effects on cod and some flatfish species.” Most studies to date have focused on direct effects to an animal, Foy said, but future work will take a “bottoms up” approach to learn how ecosystem changes affect their metabolism and body functions. “We know more recently from the large changes we’ve seen in the climate and the increased warming, the heat waves we’ve seen in Alaska, that the lower trophic levels are dramatically affected by that heat. And those effects have been observed in the larger commercial fish species such as cod,” Foy said, referring to the 80 percent cod crash last year in the Gulf of Alaska that is blamed on imbalances caused by warmer water. The real concern, Foy said, is the speed at which changes are occurring. “It’s difficult to assess, difficult to manage,” he said. “Now we’ve got important commercial species moving thousands of kilometers over a couple of years in the Bering Sea, Northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea. That shows us that these populations will try to adapt, they will move and push the ranges of their physiology and their tolerance. The unknown is whether or not they can adapt at the speed at which everything is changing.” Early victims of OA already are known to be pteropods, microscopic floating snails that make up a huge portion of the diets of juvenile pink salmon. Research elsewhere also has shown that acidity affects growth rates of pink salmon and impairs the sense of smell in cohos. Evaluating the risks to Alaska salmon will be part of the discussion by Toby Schwoerer, a research associate at the University of Alaska Institute for Social and Economic Research Associate. Being forewarned is being forearmed, said Bob Foy. “The importance of providing information and educating ourselves is critical,” he stressed. “Our goal is to get the word out to the commercial industry, coastal communities, to managers and policymakers so we can better understand how these changes in the environment may lead to changes in our economies, in our livelihoods and our ways of life in Alaska.” The OA talk will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at the Egan Center starting at 5:30 p.m. Contact Darcy Dugan at the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network for more information at [email protected] Crab numbers As Bering Sea crab fisheries got underway on Oct. 15 the fleet has less crab to haul up overall. Crabbers were relieved to get an opener for Bristol Bay red king crab with a catch reduced to just less than 3.8 million pounds of mature male crabs, the only ones that can be retained for sale. As expected, the snow crab total catch was increased by 24 percent to 34 million pounds. There will be no fishery for bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s larger cousin. A catch of 2.4 million pounds was allowed last year but surveys showed there were not enough crab to meet a threshold for an opener. Likewise, closures will remain for blue king crab at St. Matthew Island, and for blue and red king crab at the Pribilof Islands where the stocks remain depleted. That’s not the case for Dungeness crab in the Gulf of Alaska and all along the Pacific coast where fisheries are booming. Southeast Alaska’s summer fishery produced over four million pounds for more than 185 crabbers and strong catches have continued in the fall opener that runs through November. At the westward region, which includes Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula, Dungeness crab fisheries are booming and Kodiak is no exception. Since May, a fleet of 13 boats has hauled up 1.2 million pounds, double last year’s catch. “We’re certainly on track to break 1.3 million pounds if not more. We’ve got another few weeks left in the season that closes October 31,” said Nat Nichols, area manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Kodiak. “We knew that this year was going to be good based on reports from the fishery last year, Nichols added. “We knew that there was a big year class of small crab that were going to recruit into the fishery and we’re seeing the results of that now.” Crab abundance is quite cyclical, Nichols said, and at least for the short term, the outlook for Dungies is good. “It seems like when we get these pulses of crab coming through, they last for a season or three,” he explained. “I have hopes that the fishing we’re experiencing this year may carry into next year. What I’ve heard from some of the fleet is that they’re still seeing small crab and we may have a few more good seasons in front of us. So that’s something to look forward to.” Westward crabbers are reportedly getting $2.60 to $2.75 a pound for their Dungeness catches. Industry updates Alaska’s seafood industry includes more than 9,000 fishing vessels, 87 large shoreside processing plants and generates 60,000 jobs annually. Those are just a few of the fishing industry updates unveiled at the recent Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s All Hands meeting in Anchorage. Here’s a sampler compiled by the McDowell Group: Alaska’s catches in 2018 reached 5.8 billion pounds with Alaska pollock comprising 59 percent of the volume. The $2 billion value of the harvest was led by salmon at 36 percent. Nearly 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported; through the first half of 2019 the value of exports to China declined 15 percent. The 2019 salmon catch ranks eighth for all-time harvests. Just 14 percent of the salmon was canned compared to 40 percent in the early 2000s. Alaska is the world’s largest producer of Pacific cod, which is at a 20-year low. Current halibut harvest levels are just 20 percent of what they were 20 years ago. The export value of sablefish is down 30 percent due mostly to small fish and losses from whale predation. Strong demand for crab is pushing prices higher. Alaska accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent of global red king crab supply with 70 percent coming from Russia; for snow crab, Alaska produces less than 10 percent of the supply with 45 percent coming from eastern Canada. About 500 million pounds of more than 10 different kinds of flatfish are caught each year in Alaska valued at $100 million. Pacific Ocean perch is the main rockfish taken at 100 million pounds valued at $25 million. Looking ahead, strong or stable pollock prices are a bright spot and the 2019 salmon catch will be one of the most valuable ever. One caution: trade disputes remain a threat and more tariffs could be coming this month or in mid-December. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut, sablefish bycatch levels front and center again for council

Halibut catches fluctuate based on the ups and downs of the stock from California to the farthest reaches of the Bering Sea. If the numbers decline, so do the catches of commercial and sport fishermen. But similar reductions don’t apply to the boats taking millions of pounds of halibut as bycatch in other fisheries. In the Bering Sea, for example, there is a fixed cap totaling 7.73 million pounds of halibut allowed to be taken as bycatch for trawlers, longliners and pot boats targeting groundfish, with most going to trawlers. The cap stays the same, regardless of changes in the halibut stock. Nearly all of the bycatch gets tossed over the side, dead or alive, as required by federal law. Stakeholders are saying it is time for that to change. This month, after four years of analyses and deliberation, managers are moving towards a new “abundance based” management plan that would tie bycatch levels to the health of the halibut stock as determined by annual surveys. Levels of bycatch (also called prohibited species catch, or PSC) are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in waters from three to 200 miles offshore, where the bulk of Alaska’s harvests come from. In several regions, the bycatch allowed each year exceeds the catches that can be taken by fishermen who count on halibut to keep their small, seagoing businesses afloat. In a letter to the council, fisherman Josh Wisniewski of Homer cited a 2013 scenario. “The total amount of halibut that could be removed…was less than the prospective amount of halibut bycatch allowed. In other words, we didn’t have enough fish in the water to cover allowable bycatch and there would have been no directed fishery. Only emergency negotiations preserved opportunity for directed fishermen,” he wrote, adding “when halibut abundance declines, the proportion to the bycatch users increases and the amount to the directed halibut users decreases.” “I believe it is imperative, as a matter of conservation and equity, that the Council continue to move forward and develop an abundance-based management approach that provides the ability for the bycatch cap to go up and down based on stock abundance. The fixed cap, under today’s halibut stock status, is both outdated and inequitable,” Wisniewski added. Along with halibut, the council is getting an angry earful for the amount of sablefish, or black cod, that’s also going over the side by the big, mostly Seattle-based boats fishing for deep water flatfish in the Bering Sea. Scientists with the council revealed last week that sablefish bycatch of nearly 5 million pounds has been taken by Bering Sea trawlers this year, more than triple their allowance of 1.4 million pounds. They said that “given current information, there is a good chance that the Bering Sea overfishing limit for sablefish in 2019 will be exceeded.” That would close all directed sablefish fisheries in federal waters for the rest of the year. In a letter to the council, Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, called “the amount of trawl inflicted mortality unacceptable.” The Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owner’s Association and Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union agreed. “Our first concern is that, by allowing the bycatch to reach these levels, any assumption that we were saving fish to help rebuild this resource cannot be sustained,” both wrote in a letter to the NPFMC, adding, “Having nearly 5 million pounds of bycatch of juvenile sablefish is not acceptable, ever, and particularly if this is becoming an annual event.” The numbers of fish coming and going over the side as bycatch in the Bering Sea are straightforward because nearly all of the boats are required to have 100 percent observer coverage. That’s not the case in the Gulf of Alaska where in 2018 observer coverage included just one out of every six fishing trips. Based on those observations, groundfish trawlers in the Central Gulf caught nearly 4.7 million pounds of sablefish as bycatch, more than double their 2.3 million-pound allotment. Halibut bycatch in the Central and Western Gulf in 2018 totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all by trawlers with longliners a distant second. They also took 16,802 chinook salmon, according to state and federal data compiled by Oceana. “For comparison, the total chinook allocation for all sport fishing in all of Southeast Alaska is only 23,900 fish,” Jamie Karnik, Oceana’s Juneau-based Pacific Communications Manager said in a statement. IPHC researchers have cautioned that Gulf bycatch numbers could be much higher due to the data gaps. “This is important not only for overall observer coverage, but for the ‘observer effect,’ where it has been shown that on average over the last three years bottom trawl vessels caught 30 percent less fish overall when they had an observer on board, yet those trips are used as the baseline for data on unobserved trips,” Karvik said. There’s not a fisherman alive who likes throwing fish over the side. Many Gulf trawl fishermen and trade groups for years have urged the council to craft a new management plan to “slow the race for fish” and allow them to fish cooperatively or under a catch share program. In June 2012, the Council initiated the process but in 2016, citing too much division among stakeholders, all work on a Gulf trawl bycatch management plan was postponed “indefinitely.” Cod in the USA Many Americans are skeptical about buying fish and the mislabeling of seafood is rampant. One fishing company is removing all the guesswork from consumers. “America’s Cod Company” is the new red, white and blue brand that Alaskan Leader Seafoods is splashing all over its packaging. The company’s four longliners fish for cod in the Bering Sea. “We’re sitting here with this amazing Alaska fishery, which we’ve all been born into, and we just want to represent it. Across America there’s so many foreign products that I think the domestic consumer is interested in something that’s Made in the USA,” said Keith Singleton, head of Alaskan Leader’s value added division. The company was selected last week as a leading innovator by Seafood Source in its 20th annual list of the top 25 U.S. seafood suppliers, citing its consumer friendly, pop in the oven cod with flavored sauces and the latest, a Fish and Chips kit which will debut at next month’s Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Big wins at the Symphony’s new products competition two years ago has led to shelf space at Costco and a pet food deal with Purina. The pet food market, Singleton said, fits the company’s goal to use every part of the fish. “The cod liver oil is spoken for and we have a great stomach program and we’ve got a roe program,” he said. “On the pet food side, we have the head program. It’s a growing portion of our business and we’re all about one hundred percent utilization. We’re not there yet, but we’re darn close. And we’re very proud of that.” October is National Seafood Month Be sure to celebrate Alaska seafood, fishermen, processors and all the related industries that keep fishing communities afloat! ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected]an.com for information.

FISH FACTOR: North Pacific council set to convene in Homer

Federal stewards of Alaska’s fisheries will meet in Homer for the first time since 1983 as they continue their pursuit of involving more people in policy maki From Sept. 30 to Oct. 10, the Spit will be aswarm with entourages of the 15 member North Pacific Fishery Management Council which oversees more than 25 stocks in waters from three to 200 miles offshore, the source of most of Alaska’s fish volumes. The NPFMC is one of eight regional councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 that booted foreign fleets to waters beyond 200 miles and “Americanized” the Bering Sea fisheries. “The council certainly is interested in engaging more stakeholders, particularly from rural and Alaska Native communities, and by going to more coastal communities, it allows them more opportunity for input into the process,” said Dave Witherell, council executive director, adding that in recent years the council has expanded beyond Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka to convene in Nome and Dutch Harbor. At Homer, following the lead of the state Board of Fisheries, a first ever “Intro to the Council Process” workshop will be held to make the policy process less daunting. Witherell said that came at the suggestion of the council’s local engagement committee created in 2018. “It’s quite a steep learning curve to understand all the ins and outs and goings on at a council meeting and what’s written in our analyses,” Witherell said. “We’re trying to open it up so that someone who may not follow or live and breathe the council process can still participate. We’re trying to put it out there in plain language.” Plain language is also what you’ll find on the revamped council website. All postings of meeting agendas, document overviews, etc. are in a “conversational style” and have been consolidated in one place, said Maria Davis, council IT specialist. “Some of the topics are very complex so distilling them down into two or three sentences may not be exactly what is happening, but it gives them a large overview. Then you can read the analysis if you’re really interested in a lot of the detail,” she said adding that searchable digital content is included back to 2014. “It’s so easy to find documents and it’s so easy for the staff to upload their documents,” Davis said. “There’s also a public comment portal where you can read comments and you can upload your comments for committee and council meetings under each agenda item. “It’s very user friendly and you get a return email that says thank you, your comment has been received and council members and the general public can see it immediately. It’s really been a game changer as far as accessibility for the public.” The council members know that the topics they discuss and the decisions they make affect many who are not directly involved in fishing, Davis added. “It’s also all the businesses where you live year round and the communities,” she said. “We want to hear from them and we want to make it easy and not intimidating.” The industry will get a first glimpse at potential 2021 catches of Alaska pollock, cod, sablefish, rockfish, flounders and other whitefish at the Homer meeting. www.npfmc.org More women in fish Dave Witherell stepped up to the NPFMC executive director role when after 16 years Chris Oliver moved to Washington, D.C., to take the helm at NOAA Fisheries two years ago. Witherell chose Diana Evans to be deputy director, the first woman to hold that position. Evans has worked as a fishery analyst for the council since 2002. At the Homer meeting, two women also will be newly seated to replace Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer, whose terms have expired. Cora Campbell and Nicole Kimball both have previously represented the State of Alaska on the NPFMC but they now will be industry representatives. Campbell, a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is now CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods. Kimball served for many years as federal fisheries coordinator for ADFG and now is vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association. Carina Nichols of Sitka was hired by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan as a new legislative assistant focusing on fisheries. Nichols has fished for sablefish and halibut in Southeast and salmon at Bristol Bay. She also has been a member of the council Advisory Panel. “I am glad to welcome Carina to my team in Washington, D.C. Her many years of experience both working on the water and in fisheries policy brings a depth and breadth of knowledge about the issues facing Alaska’s fisheries and coastal communities that will be invaluable in guiding my work serving Alaskans,” Sullivan wrote in an emailed message. Big Bay payday! Bristol Bay salmon fishermen are set to take home their biggest paychecks ever. The 2019 preliminary ex-vessel (dockside) value of $306.5 million for all salmon species ranks first in the history of the fishery and was 248 percent of the 20-year average of $124 million, according to an ADFG release. The 2019 sockeye salmon run of 56.5 million fish was the fourth-largest and it was the fifth consecutive year that inshore runs topped 50 million fish. The all-species harvest of 44.5 million is the second largest on record, after the 45.4 million taken in 1995. This year over 43 million of the Bristol Bay salmon harvest was sockeyes. Here are the 2019 salmon base prices at Bristol Bay with comparisons to 2018 in parentheses: sockeyes, $1.35 per pound ($1.26); chinook, $0.50 ($0.80); chums, $0.25 ($0.43); pinks, $0.05 ($0.20); and cohos, $0.55 ($0.80). The weight, harvest, and price of each species were used to estimate values and do not include future price adjustment for icing, bleeding, or production bonuses. Fish guts go plastic A 23-year-old student at the University of Sussex in England has invented a biodegradable plastic bag made from fish guts. Lucy Hughes was bothered by the “unwanted offcuts” from seafood processing that are dumped each year and discovered that red algae along the local coastline worked as a binding agent. SeafoodNews reports that Hughes used the algae to bind together the fish waste proteins into a translucent, plastic-like material that biodegrades in four to six weeks. Initial testing suggests that it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based plastic counterpart. Hughes plans to commercialize her product called MarinaTex. “For me, MarinaTex represents a commitment to material innovation and selection by incorporating sustainable, local and circular values into design,” she said. “As creators, we should not limit ourselves in designing to just form and function, but rather form, function and footprint.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Second-best sockeye season highlights salmon harvest

“Unpredictable” is the way salmon managers describe Alaska’s 2019 salmon season, with “very, very interesting” as an aside. The salmon fishery is near its end, and a statewide catch of nearly 200 million salmon is only 6 percent off what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game number crunchers predicted, and it is on track to be the eighth-largest since 1975. The brightest spot of the season was the strong returns of sockeye salmon that produced a catch of more than 55 million fish, the largest since 1995 and the fifth consecutive year of harvests topping 50 million reds. The bulk of the sockeye catch – 43.2 million – came from Bristol Bay, the second-largest on record. It was a rollercoaster ride in many regions where unprecedented warm temperatures threw salmon runs off kilter and also killed large numbers of fish that were unable to swim upstream to their spawning grounds. Many salmon that made it to water faced temperatures of 75 degrees or more in some regions. “The hot dry weather for most of the summer resulted in low and warm water conditions in many of the important spawning systems around the state. The salmon had to spend more time in saltwater than they normally would, in the terminal areas near the stream mouths,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division. Despite the heat stress, escapement goals were met in most Alaska regions. “The runs returned in large enough numbers to make that happen. So that’s a bright spot,” said Bowers, a nearly 30-year salmon management veteran. It’s been difficult to get a good census on how many salmon might have perished in the heat wave, Bowers said, but managers are assessing potential impacts on future fish. “We’ve been taking reports from the public and we’ve had staff out in the field trying to collect information on the extent of those die-offs,” Bowers said. “We’re looking at all the data, but from what we’ve seen, the magnitude is relatively small and we don’t believe it has been significant enough to impact escapement.” “Now, whether the warm water and low water conditions will result in reduced viability of offspring from the fish spawning this year or increase overwintering mortality, that remains to be seen. But those are possibilities,” he added. The same environmental conditions are playing out favorably for salmon in westward regions, which adds to the unpredictability. “Particularly north of the Alaska Peninsula and the Bering Sea have been really favorable for salmon production at Bristol Bay, the Yukon, Norton Sound and Kotzebue,” Bowers said. “And we’re starting to see salmon move even further into the Arctic. On the North Slope, we’re seeing sockeye and pink salmon up there.” It’s a sign of the times, Bowers added, and the unpredictability brings new challenges to salmon managers. “It’s difficult to count on traditional run timings,” he explained. “We have so much run timing data for Pacific salmon and Alaska that go back over 100 years for some of the stocks that we rely on for in season management decisions. With a very compressed run such as at Bristol Bay, even a deviation of a few days creates a lot of uncertainty. Does that mean the run is late or not as large as forecast? “So that’s what we’re seeing in the last couple of years, this increased uncertainty in terms of run time and size.” Fish watch As salmon fishing winds down, hundreds of boats of all gear types and sizes are going after cod, rockfish, perch, flounders, Alaska pollock and many other species. Alaska halibut longliners have taken 73 percent of their nearly 18 million-pound catch limit with less than 5 million pounds remaining. Homer leads all ports for halibut landings followed by Seward and Kodiak. So far 58 percent of the nearly 26 million-pound sablefish quota has been caught. Sitka has topped Seward as the usual leading port for sablefish landings, with Kodiak third. Both the Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries end on Nov. 14. Fall means the start of dive fisheries for pricey sea cucumbers. On Oct. 7 divers will head down for nearly 2 million pounds of cukes in Southeast Alaska. A much smaller sea cucumber fishery of 165,000 pounds opens on Oct. 1 at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula. Red sea cucumbers last year paid out at more than $4 per pound to fishermen. The Panhandle’s popular spot shrimp fishery also opens Oct. 1. Fishermen using pots can haul up just more than a half-million pounds. Also in Southeast Alaska, the Dungeness crab fishery will reopen Oct. 1 in a year that could be the best in a decade. The catch for the summer fishery that wrapped up last month topped 4 million pounds and managers expect a good catch this fall. Dungies averaged $3.06 per pound making the summer fishery worth nearly $13 million at the docks. Here’s a new one: The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has established a season for the commercial harvest of detached kelp that has washed up on beaches in Lower Cook Inlet. Almanac call Share personal glimpses of your fishing life in photos, songs, stories, art, poems, musings and mischief in the second Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac. The call for submissions is going on now. “It’s a window into the lifestyle that so many of us live here in Alaska,” said Jamie O’Connor, a fisherman and head of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, an arm of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The almanac is modeled after a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792. Last year’s 141-page inaugural edition featured nearly 60 items from almost every Alaska region. It serves as a “cultural touchstone” for fishermen that reinforces their sense of community, O’Connor said, adding that she’s been pleasantly surprised at how popular the book has been with non-fishing people. Ultimately, the almanac celebrates the culture and builds understanding of the fishing life. The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac will be available in mid-November, just in time for holiday gift giving. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 1. Fish bucks give back American Seafoods Co. is again offering grants for community programs at Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. The majority of grant awards will range from $1,000 to $7,500 and be based on the need in the community, the number of people who will benefit from the program and the ability to garner matching funding. The deadline to submit applications is Oct. 14 and recipients will be announced by the Western Alaska Community Grant Board on Oct. 30. Apply at www.americanseafoods.com or contact Kim Lynch ([email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Dietary guidelines zero in on seafood

Federal agencies are meeting now through next March to define U.S. dietary guidelines for 2020-25, and a high-powered group of doctors and nutritionists are making sure the health benefits of seafood are front and center. For the first time in the 40-year history of the program, the dietary guidelines committee has posted the questions they are going to consider. They include the role of seafood in the neurocognitive development in pregnant moms for their babies, and in the diet of kids from birth to 24 months directly, said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. “We really got jazzed when we saw that because we wanted to figure out what the committee would find when it does its literature search on what medical evidence is out there and boy, did we find a lot,” Brenna said. Brenna also chairs the advisory council of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which on Sept. 17 is holding its 3rd annual in Washington, DC. The non-profit hosts the event as part of a public health campaign started in 2015 aimed at getting Americans to eat more seafood. More than 40 studies address the two committee questions, Brenna said, and provide evidence of how nutrients in seafood, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are so especially important to brain and eye development. “The brain and the retina in the eye are omega-3 organs. As calcium is to the bones, omega-3 is to the brain,” he said. “These kinds of data are exactly the kind of human study the dietary guidelines focus on. They are not cell studies, not rat studies, they are based on real studies on humans. It’s direct evidence. That’s why we are so excited.” For centuries, fish has been regarded as “brain food” and a plethora of studies has shown that seafood can prevent or relieve dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and reduce depression, among other things. “I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be thinking of seafood if they wanted to keep their brain in good working order,” Brenna said, adding that he is baffled why such positive health messages have not “stuck” in the U.S. Answers could be forthcoming in a discussion of Building Lifelong Seafood Consumers at the D.C. symposium. Unlike the meat or dairy industries who use sustained, national campaigns such as “Where’s the Beef?” or “Got Milk?”, the seafood industry has never banded together on its own behalf. “Getting the seafood industry together to promote one message has been difficult,” Brenna said, adding that the industry appears fragmented instead of coming together as a national “whole.” He is hopeful that putting the spotlight on seafood’s health advantages will help move the message and that national media will show more interest. “We’re generating the ammunition for the policy guys,” Brenna said. “There’s only so much that the science guys can do and boy, we’ve spent a lot of time doing it. We can lay the evidence in front of the policy makers. They have to implement it.” The 2015-20 dietary guidelines recommended at least two servings of seafood per week, but only one in 10 follow the recommendation. Consumption of seafood by Americans reached 16 pounds per person in 2017, in increase of 1.1 pounds versus 2016, according to federal data. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will meet five times with the last meeting tentatively scheduled for March 12-13, 2020. All meetings will be open to the public and two will include opportunity for public comment. Written comments are being accepted until the committee completes its work. A final report will be submitted to the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. Crab’s coming Bering Sea crabbers got some good news in advance of the season opener in mid-October. “We’ve been told that we will have a Bering Sea red king crab season. We don’t know what the catch will be yet but we understand that it will be reduced from last year. We really appreciate the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for giving us a heads up on that,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-cooperative Exchange, or ICE, which represents more than 75 percent of the crab fleet of about 85 boats. The 2018 catch limit for Bristol Bay red king crab was just 4.3 million pounds. Jacobsen said the catch will go into an eager market and make for a good pay day. “Our average price for king crab last year was $10.53 (per pound),” he said. “We’re expecting higher prices this year based on what we’re seeing in world markets.” The record price for Alaska red king crab was $10.84 per pound paid in 2011. No word yet on the catch quota for snow crab, or opilio, although it should increase from this year’s take of 27.5 million pounds. Surveys in 2018 showed a 60 percent boost in market sized male crabs and nearly the same for females. Bob Foy, director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s crab plan team, said it “documented one of the largest snow crab recruitment events biologists have ever seen.” Snow crab prices for the 2019 winter fishery are still being finalized, Jacobsen said, adding “it should be somewhere around $3.95 to $4 (per pound) average price.” A shortage of snow crab could prompt earlier fishing than the traditional mid-January start, he added. Crabbers also are keeping their fingers crossed for an opener for bairdi Tanners, snow crab’s bigger cousin. Jacobsen said the 2019 Tanner price “should average around $4.50 a pound.” Just 2.4 million pounds were allowed for harvest in the 2018-19 Tanner fishery, although crabbers say they see a lot more crab than what’s been showing up in annual trawl surveys. “It’s really hard to guess from one year to the next on the surveys. It might show something one year and you can’t find them the next,” he said. Jacobsen added that buyers like Red Lobster are featuring the larger bairdi Tanners on their menus and a closure would crimp those markets. “We’re really hopeful we can get a bairdi season this year so we can maintain that differentiation in the marketplace. It seems like we have to rebuild it every time we miss a year or two,” he said. Managers will reveal findings of the summer survey during the week of Sept. 16 in Seattle and finalize the catch quotas in early October. The Bering Sea crab fisheries open Oct. 15. Five species, five pieces Snack sized stories can teach a lot about Alaska salmon and connect people across the state. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that here is no other species that is as important to Alaska as salmon,” said Peter Westley, an assistant professor at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His students compile a Five Bites of Salmon newsletter that showcases stories and research about Alaska salmon as a way to “help increase salmon literacy and build a network of salmon connected people,” he said. A recent Five Bites highlighted lethal impacts of Alaska’s heat wave on salmon, what raging wildfires might mean for salmon habitat and interactive dives into 13 salmon regions that show, for example, that the Yukon is home to a larger watershed than Texas. The newsletter is a small offshoot of the college’s Salmonid Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation lab, or SEEC, which focuses on projects that help inform policy makers and sustain connections between salmon, people and place, Westley said. “Sustainability is not just about having a high abundance of salmon in some river,” he said. “It’s really about sustaining the connections to that resource on the landscape.” Research by SEEC lab students has revealed, for example, that larger numbers of adult coho salmon at Kodiak have a much higher dependence on Buskin Lake before they head downstream to spawn. Another showed for the first time that the demise of most Yukon River chinook seems to occur in the ocean and not in fresh water habitats. Research also is ongoing on hatchery strays and invasive Northern pike. The SEEC Lab also is a part of the Alaska Salmon and People project, a statewide initiative to quantify the varied states of salmon through histories, case studies and in depth data. Sign on to the Five Bites newsletter and learn how to make Blueberry Cured Salmon Gravlax. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Commercial Fisheries Division sorts out budget cuts

Now the shuffling begins at Alaska fisheries offices around the state as the impacts from back and forth veto volleys become clearer. For the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, an $85 million budget, about half of which is from state general funds, reflects a $997,000 dollar cut for fiscal year 2020. Where and how the cuts will play out across Alaska’s far-flung coastal regions is now being decided by fishery managers. “Now that the salmon season is about over we’re taking a good close look at this and what we’re going to put in the water next season. We’ve been assured we can look at our (commercial fisheries) budget in total and reduce the lowest priority projects,” said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Some layoffs are likely and vacancies and retiree positions may not be filled to save money, he added. “We’ll be consolidating different groups across the state in an effort to keep as much as we can going that is mission critical in terms of work out in the field. Because the less information we have the more precautionary we’ll become in our management,” he said. Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s vetoes for commercial fisheries included $258,000 for surveys and stock assessment in Southeast, $240,000 in Southcentral, $300,000 from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, and $200,000 from the Westward Region. A possible list includes doing fewer or shorter surveys on Bering Sea juvenile chinook salmon, and relying on fewer weir or sonar tracking for sockeyes at the Susitna River drainage. Test line fisheries at Cook Inlet might be shortened and Tanner crab surveys at Prince William Sound could get the axe. Salmon weirs at Kodiak and Chignik may be reduced along with various groundfish stock assessment projects. Also cut by 50 percent were state travel funds for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and all ADFG divisions, except for members of advisory committees, or ACs, to the boards of Fisheries and Game. “The AC travel appropriation was not vetoed with credit to the governor for seeing the value of the local citizens involvement,” said Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner. “I’m told it will be tight but we think we can still manage the meetings.” The funding for directors of the state habitat and subsistence divisions (about $400,000) was rolled into the Office of Management and Budget, but their functions remain under ADFG. Vincent-Lang said he opted to not fill those positions and instead make the two divisions into “sections” to be able to retain more staff. “I probably would have lost two permitters out of habitat and two staff members that go out and conduct community surveys in the subsistence division just to have a director in those roles,” he explained. “There are deputy operations managers for each of those new sections. The one for habitat reports to Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan and the subsistence section reports directly to me. The functions of subsistence and habitat remain at ADF&G.” Seafood contest call The call is out for new seafood products for the 27th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafoods competition that will be celebrated at two gala events. The Symphony, hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, showcases new seafood products to boost their value and appeal to a wider range of customers. It features four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Plate and Beyond the Egg. “Beyond the Plate features byproducts or ‘specialty’ products. We’ve had salmon leather wallets things made of chitosan from crab shells, fish oil capsules, and pet treats is another big one,” said AFDF Executive Director Julie Decker. “Beyond the Egg includes products made with roe,” she added. “It could be a paste or jarred salmon roe or pollock roe. It is some of the high value and high nutrition part of the seafood that comes out of Alaska waters and we really want to encourage more roe product development.” Decker said the Symphony event is on a mission to acquire more major sponsors for three-year commitments to provide more money and stability for the dual seafood soirees. “We need more money in order to do more with the Symphony and have more impact for the industry and the coastal communities that rely on the industry,” Decker said. Another push is to grow the competition beyond the dozen or so entries the Symphony usually receives. “They can be from a company in the state, in the U.S. or in another country. Anyone that makes anything out of Alaska seafood can enter,” Decker said. The seafood entries will be judged at Pacific Marine Expo on Nov. 20 and first place winners will be announced there on Nov. 22. Second and third place winners, plus the grand prize, will be kept secret until a Feb. 24 Juneau legislative reception. Symphony winners get a free trip to the Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March. Decker said the Symphony has even more benefits in store for its winners. “We plan to start working with retailers to get commitments that they will give retail space to Symphony winners.” Product entries are due to AFDF by Oct. 15. D.C. does salmon In what’s got to rank near the top for savvy promotions, Bristol Bay sockeye salmon will be featured for a week this month at nearly 30 restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Wegman’s locations in Maryland and Virginia. “Really they signed up very quickly. All we had to do was tell people we have this massive wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay Alaska, the largest in the world, and we want to create a special event around that to connect people to the place that it comes from and the people,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The group, funded and operated by fishermen, was able to build “Salmon Week” based on chef and retail relationships it has cemented in recent years, and through its use of slick promotions in stores and on social media. The brand building outreach is bankrolled by a 1 percent tax on the catches of Bristol Bay’s nearly 1,600 drift gillnetters, which they’ve paid since 2007. For 2018, Wink said that added up to $3 million; the RSDA can use the money in any way it chooses. From the get-go the RSDA invested in chilling systems and infrastructure to boost overall fish quality. Processors rewarded chilling with bonuses that this year could pay fishermen $1.65 per pound or far more. Wink said chilling has been the group’s best return on investment. “From an ROI (return on investment) perspective you know that chilled fish are getting bonuses of usually 20 cents or better and it often unlocks bonuses which are far in excess of that,” he said. “These are really high returning projects for us. Last year when we added it all up, the amount of chilled fish we produced by RSDA investments almost paid for all of the funding that we would normally get through the assessment.” Why should Alaskans elsewhere care about salmon catches and quality at Bristol Bay? “In the context of the Alaska salmon industry, Bristol Bay is really a market moving fishery. In 2018 it was about half of Alaska’s total salmon value,” Wink said, adding that all but three Alaska regions are home to residents who “fish the Bay.” “I think the only borough and census areas that don’t have a Bristol Bay permit holder are Nome, Skagway and Yakutat. Every other place has some residents who own a commercial fishing permit at Bristol Bay,” Wink said. “You’d be hard pressed to find any other fishery that has that type of scale and scope to it. What happens in Bristol Bay affects the entire state in a lot of different ways.” Bristol Bay Salmon Week is set for Sept. 16-20. www.bristolbaysalmonweek.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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