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By LAINE WELCH
July 11, 2021
(SitNews) - “Unprecedented” is how fishery managers are describing sockeye catches at Bristol Bay, which topped one million fish for seven days straight at the Nushagak district last week and neared the two million mark on several days.
By July 9, Alaska’s statewide sockeye salmon catch was approaching 32 million, of which more than 25 million came from Bristol Bay. The only other region getting good sockeye catches was the Alaska Peninsula where nearly 4.6 million reds were landed so far.
The Alaska Peninsula also was far ahead of all other regions for pink salmon catches with over 3.3 million taken out of a total statewide tally of just over 5.4 million so far.
Pink salmon run in distinct two year cycles with odd years being stronger, and the preseason forecast calls for a total Alaska harvest of 124.2 million pinks this summer.
The timing for peak pink harvests is still several weeks away; likewise for chums, and most cohos will arrive in mid-August.
Alaska salmon managers are projecting the 2021 statewide salmon catch to top 190 million fish, a 61% increase over last year’s take of about 118 million salmon. By July 9, the statewide catch for all species had topped 41 million fish.
There’s still lots of fishing left to go and so far, the most sluggish catches were coming out of Southeast where only 258,000 salmon were landed by last week.
On the Yukon River, summer chum salmon returns are the lowest on record and state managers will request a disaster declaration for the second year in a row.
Norton Sound primes for pinks:
Chums also are a bust at Norton Sound where the runs have dropped to less than 5% of what is typical each summer.
“Right now, we don’t see any chum salmon openings. Something happened in the ocean that really knocked them down for this stretch,” said Jim Menard, regional manager for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Nome.
Menard told KNOM that low chum runs have been occurring throughout Western Alaska in general, and it could be a side effect of the high numbers of pink salmon that have been surging into the region.
“Five years running we’ve had incredible pink salmon runs. And the even numbered year pink runs in Norton Sound are a lot bigger than the odd numbered years,” Menard said, adding that pink returns to the region’s rivers have skyrocketed to well over 10 million fish.
The shift in fish means a small fleet of Norton Sound purse seiners will test the waters for a new pink salmon fishery this summer. It will be a first experiment for seine gear fishing for humpies so far North, and Icicle Seafoods is lined up to buy all the pinks that the local boats pull in.
“If it’s possible to target pinks without adversely affecting the important subsistence and gillnet fleets, this pink salmon fishery warrants pursuing,” Menard said.
As far as the appearance of so many pinks, fish managers say it’s all about the food.
“They're definitely the colonizers, for sure,” said Sam Rabung, director of the commercial fisheries division at ADF&G. “I've had calls from people on the North Slope asking about fisheries because pink salmon are showing up there. I don't know that they're going to persist because it still freezes down up there, and so the eggs that are deposited in those rivers won't generally survive. But they're trying.”
As ocean waters warm, Rabung said it changes the makeup of the plankton the pinks feed upon and the fish are following their healthier food sources northward.
“As the warmer water moves north, the warm water copepods, which are one of the main foods for salmon, move north with it. The cold water copepods have a high lipid, high fat content, so they're very energy dense and have a lot of bang for the buck for eating on them,” he explained.
Warm water plankton don’t. And since salmon are a cold water species, he said warm waters also boost their metabolism, meaning they need more food to grow.
Rabung pointed to the 2018 Gulf of Alaska cod collapse that science has linked with a preceding multi-year, warm water blob. The resulting food imbalance wiped out two cod year classes, and water temperatures that topped 60 degrees permeated to the ocean bottom and prevented cod eggs from hatching.
A changing ocean brings big challenges, he said, and paying attention to the impacts on fish can help managers better react.
“That’s a tough ship to turn around and it’s probably not going to reverse course in my career,” he said. “But what we can do is understand what the changes are and know what’s happening with the stocks and try to not exacerbate any negative effects by not being responsive in our management.”
In other fisheries:
Catches for Dungeness crab at Southeast Alaska were going slow so far for 163 boats, but prices of $4.20 a pound are more than double last year’s. The crab fishery will run through mid-August and reopen in October.
Kodiak crabbers were getting $4.25 for their Dungeness, also more than double.
Norton Sound opened for king crab on June 15 with a 290,000 pound catch limit. Concerns over the depleted stock resulted in no buyers and only one participant who is selling crab locally.
Prince William Sound’s pot shrimp fishery remains open until mid-September with a catch limit of 70,000 pounds. A lingcod fishery opened in the Sound on July 1 for a catch of nearly 33,000 pounds.
Ling cod also opened at Cook Inlet with a 52,500 pound catch limit. The Inlet also opened July 1 for rockfish with a 150,000 pound harvest.
Cook Inlet also has a harvest for kelp washed up on beaches set at 86,000 pounds.
A scallop fishery opened on July 1 from Yakutat to the Bering Sea with a harvest of 345,000 pounds of shucked meats.
Alaska’s halibut catch was nearing 7.8 million pounds out of a nearly 19 million pound catch limit. Continuing demand for fresh fish has kept prices well over $5.75 a pound at most ports, reaching $7.50 across the board at Homer.
Prices for sablefish (black cod) also were on the rise in five weight categories. The weekly Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats & Permits showed prices ranging from $1.10 for two pounders to $6.25 a pound for 7 ups. Sablefish catches were approaching 27 million pounds out of a 43.4 million pound quota.
Fishing for pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish also continues throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea.
Alaska has 90 ports along its rivers and marine waterways from tiny to huge, according to the World Port Source.
Thousands of fishermen and other mariners rely on ports and harbors to help maintain their livelihoods - but how do they feel about their care and maintenance? A new project aims to find out.
“It’s gauging how clean people think the harbors are, why they are that way and how we can make them cleaner,” said Tav Ammu, an Alaska Sea Grant Fellow who also skippers a boat at Bristol Bay.
Ammu has created a project to survey fishermen’s perceptions on pollution and waste during his down time at the docks this summer in Dillingham. He will repeat the survey at Ninilchik on the Kenai Peninsula in the fall.
Ammu told KDLG he became interested in water quality and conservation while serving in the Navy.
“I did not feel there was enough attention towards cleanliness and sustainability and conservation. So, I got a master’s degree in marine systems and policies with the hope to bridge the gap between me who fishes and science or policy makers,” he said.
Ammu’s goal is to get baseline data on how people in the fishing community perceive harbor cleanliness and water quality, turn the survey results into a report and share it at the Alaska Harbor Master Forum in Anchorage in October.
After a two year hiatus due to the Covid pandemic, Pacific Marine Expo will be back in Seattle on November 18-20 at the Lumen Field Event Center. The call is out for speakers on topics relevant to mariners. Deadline for submissions is July 16. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com for more information.
Fishermen are the ears and eyes of the marine ecosystem as a changing climate throws our oceans off kilter.
New Skipper Science smartphone app:
Now a new phone app is making sure their real life, real time observations are included in scientific data.
The new Skipper Science smartphone app, released on June 18, comes from the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea as a way “to elevate the thousands of informal-yet-meaningful environmental observations by fishermen and others into hard numbers for Alaska’s science-based management,” said Lauren Divine, Director of Ecosystem Conservation for St. Paul’s tribal government whose team created and owns the dataset for the app.
“How do we take what has historically been called anecdotal and create some structure around it that is rigorous and has scientific repeatability?” Divine said to KCAW in Sitka.
“There is a vast body of deep knowledge that fishermen hold from their experience on the water, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, that they use for decision making and risk evaluation and to execute a likelihood on the water. And we have very much underutilized that knowledge for years, especially here in the North Pacific,” she added in a phone interview.
The free app, which works on or off the internet, is an offshoot of an Indigenous Sentinels Networkstarted 16 years ago at St. Paul Island to monitor wildlife and the environment in the Bering Sea.
To broaden its reach, St. Paul partnered with advocacy group SalmonState’s Salmon Habitat Information Program (SHIP). Through its surveys and other outreach SHIP quantifies what’s regarded by scientists as fishermen’s “informal observations” and shares the information with managers and decision makers.
Troller Eric Jordan of Sitka, who has been out on the Southeast waters for 71 years, agrees the grounds truth should be in the data base.
“We have perspectives that go back decades as persons that are dependent on reading correctly what's going on. We are tuned in to the utmost degree. We know which bird is feeding on what fish, the water temperature, the depth, the bottom structure, all those things,” he said about the SkipperScience community. “And we're trying to project into the future quicker than almost anybody else. We know stuff that is helpful to everybody as they're trying to understand the changes, because we're not just there to understand, we're there to adapt.”
Call for fish board seat:
The call is out for nominees to fill one open seat on the state Board of Fisheries.
The opening stems from the Alaska Legislature on May 13 giving a thumbs down to Governor Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Mine. Nearly 1,000 Alaskans spoke out against Williams’ appointment.
According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days.
“The Governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection,” Jeff Turner, Deputy Director of Communications, said in an email, adding that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.”
United Fishermen of Alaska said that Governor Dunleavy “is open to considering applicants from all across Alaska.”
By March 2021, the BOF was scheduled to have finished up 275 proposals for Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish fisheries. But the normal meeting cycle was disrupted by the Covid pandemic.
Starting in October of 2021 it will hold a two-day work session followed by meetings for those other regional fisheries in November through March of next year.
Then in October 2022, the BOF will turn its attention to Bristol Bay and Chignik, the Bering Sea, Arctic-Yukon- Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula regions.
“The Governor’s nominee will serve on the board in the interim until the legislature, in joint session, makes a decision,” said Board director Glenn Haight.
The BOF regulates commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in Alaska state waters, meaning out to three miles.
Currently, only one of the seven board seats is held by a person from a coastal region – John Jensen of Petersburg.
Alaska seafood love:
A new national survey revealed that 26% of U.S. consumers said they purchased seafood for the first time during the Covid pandemic, nearly half plan to increase their intake and nearly 74% plan to continue cooking seafood at home.
That’s according to a 2021 Power of Seafood report by Dataessential which tracks national market trends. The report was compiled for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Seafood saw unprecedented growth in grocery sales at nearly 30 % at the height of the pandemic, far exceeding all other food categories.
The top reasons? It’s healthier than red meat and people said they prefer the taste.
Topping the seafood list of favorites was salmon and by a five to one margin, responders said they prefer wild over farmed. Having less harmful additives was a top reason they prefer wild-caught seafood.
Over 60% said they want to know where their seafood comes from and that it is sustainably sourced.
Over 70 percent of 1,000 responders said they are more likely to buy seafood when they see the Alaska logo, and they are willing to pay more for it.
That holds true in Japan where another ASMI survey of 1,000 seafood eaters showed that nearly 80% said they were more inclined to buy products bearing the Alaska brand. The responders said their favorite things about Alaska seafood were (translated from Japanese) wild deliciousness (63%), great nature (49%), clean ocean (45%) and freshly frozen (44%).
“We had to adjust our strategy and tactics in all of our markets which were hit hard by the pandemic and required new data to guide our efforts,” said Hannah Lindoff, ASMI Senior Director of Global Marketing and Strategy.
Fish gets gutted:
Meanwhile, in the ongoing state budget battle, Governor Dunleavy vetoed $3 million in federal CARES funding for ASMI that he gushed over on June 25.
"Alaska's seafood industry is a strong pillar of our economy and my administration is committed to supporting ASMI's urgent and substantial need following unplanned industry-wide COVID-19 costs," Dunleavy said on his website.
"No one does seafood like the Last Frontier with its world-class stocks of fresh, nutritious, and wild protein. Our fleets have weathered the storm of COVID, now it's time to keep delivering a piece of Alaska on a dish around the globe,” the governor added.
ASMI is a partnership between the state and the Alaskan seafood industry and is funded by a tax on processors and some federal dollars. It receives no state funding.
The $3 million was part of a $50 million Alaska portion for seafood-related relief in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020 by Congress.
Blue pipeline booms:
The nation’s maritime economy grew at pace that nearly doubled the growth of the entire U.S. GDP in 2019.
GDP stands for gross domestic product and reflects the total market value of all finished goods and services in a specific time frame. It is used to estimate the size of an economy and its growth rate – a sort of comprehensive scorecard of a country’s economic health.
A first-ever report recently released by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce showed that the so-called “blue economy” grew by 4.2% and generated nearly $400 billion to the GDP.
Along with the oceans, the report includes the Great Lakes and looks at the contributions from shoreside businesses. Those businesses generated almost $666 billion in sales in 2019 and supported 2.4 million jobs.
Commercial fishing, including aquaculture, contributed $27 billion making it the sixth-largest segment of the blue economy.
The top marine economic activity in 2019 was tourism and recreation, including coastal trips and travel, and offshore boating and fishing. That accounted for 35.3% of gross output totaling $235 billion.
National defense and public administration accounted for just over 27% of the U.S. marine economy at $180 billion; offshore oil, gas and minerals contributed $76.4 billion, or 14%.
Marine transportation and warehousing accounted for $63.8 billion, or 9.6% of gross domestic output in 2019.
And here’s an interesting data point: nonrecreational ship and boat building contributed $31.2 billion, a 37.2% increase ($8.5 billion) from the previous year, making it one of the fastest-growing marine economy activities.
he blue economy report concluded that the nation’s waters are vital to America, saying that “It is nearly impossible to go a single day without eating, wearing, or using items that come from or through our ports and coastal communities.”
Don’t dump your dumps:
Don’t be dumping your doings overboard is a message from the state of Alaska to fishing vessel operators.
The reminder to fishermen and other mariners comes from the Department of Environmental Conservation advising them that it is illegal to dump sewage within three miles from shore.
“It is common practice, obviously, for folks to use a honey bucket on their boat and to just throw it overboard. There is no doubt it is an ongoing practice. So, we are working to educate folks operating in our waters about the Clean Water Act. I would encourage folks to think about the water in general, think about being good stewards, and to bring that to our proper disposal on shore,” said DEC Commissioner Jason Brune.
Dumping sewage violates the Clean Water Act and can net you a fine up to $2,000. Brune said the dumpings damage the nearshore environment by contaminating shellfish beds and fish habitat and can spread diseases to other people.
All boats with onboard bathrooms must use Coast Guard approved sanitation devices with storage tanks that are emptied at a pump station on shore or beyond three miles. Boats with honey buckets also can use the pump stations or bag style camp toilets that can be sealed and disposed of at approved collection areas.
Along with the dangers of contamination, Brune pointed out that dumping sewage in nearby waters simply sends the wrong message.
“We have environmental standards that we want to hold folks to,” he said, “to make sure that we’re being protective of our marine resources, of our fish and of the environment that we love here in Alaska.”
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