by Laine Welch
Next year will be no exception to the five year trend of trimming Pacific halibut catches. There’s a lot of halibut out there, but the fish are growing so slowly it is keeping a downward press on the amount of fish being made available for harvest. Fisheries for the Pacific coast, British Columbia and Alaska could be cut by 19 percent next year if managers accept the recommendations of fishery scientists.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission released preliminary numbers last week that show a combined catch of 41 million pounds for fisheries on the Pacific coast, British Columbia and Alaska. Of that, 32.5 million pounds is allocated to Alaska fishermen, down from 40 million pounds of halibut this year.
The reductions would be especially brutal again for Southeast Alaska where halibut catch limits have dropped by more than 60% over the past five years. For 2011, a whopping 47 percent cut is being proposed for the Panhandle to just 2.3 million pounds.
For Alaska’s biggest halibut hole, the Central Gulf, next year’s catch could be slashed by 28 percent to 14.3 million pounds. The recommended catch for the Western Gulf is 7.5 million pounds, down 24 percent. Smaller fisheries along the Aleutians could see slight increases to 4.6 million pounds; likewise; Bering Sea fishermen would get a slight bump to 3.7 million pounds of halibut.
The reduced supply of halibut will have a serious market impact, said analyst John Sackton of Seafood.com.
“Already halibut prices are the highest in over 10 years with dressed fish wholesaling for over $7 in Seattle. The lower landings already have buyers bidding up prices and that will be a bigger problem next year. Halibut is a very popular food service fish on a lot of menus and it is not easy for many restaurants to change course,” he said.
Sackton cautioned that total removals of sport and commercially caught halibut have been running 9-14% per year above recommended levels.
“The fish are growing so slowly that the scientists are asking the halibut commission to consider a management strategy to reduce catches even further given the current biological situation. It’s not good news.”
The IPHC will make final decisions on 2011 halibut catches at its annual meeting January 25-29 in Vancouver. The Pacific halibut fishery opens in March.
Fish earmarks – Both of Alaska’s senators voted against a proposed three year moratorium on earmarks, saying the state has needs that are best served by those funds.
An earmark is anything requested by a member of Congress that has not been included within the president’s budget, explained Senator Lisa Murkowski in a phone call from Washington, D.C.
“It is so important to understand that so much of what we include in legislation are initiatives that have been requested by states that the administration doesn’t even know about, and there are many competing interests,” she added.
“I don’t view construction of a harbor as pork or abusive wasteful spending,” Murkowski said, using a $750,000 appropriations request for dredging at Kodiak harbor as an example.
“That is an earmark because it is not included in the president’s budget. It is something I have requested be inserted in the energy and waters appropriation bill because it is a priority for Kodiak.”
A good chunk of earmark money funds fishery research grants in Alaska. A $400,000 earmark funds the annual crab stock assessments in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. No assessments, no fishery. Another $500,000 bankrolls research for Alaska seals and Steller sea lions.
Murkowski called the recent push by Congress to ban all earmarks “long on bravado but short on substance.”
“When we’re talking about how we can make meaningful reductions in our level of spending and our deficit, we’d better be looking at something that comprises more than just one percent of our federal budget.”
Fish funds from Uncle Ted – A left over pool of federal money obtained by the late Senator Ted Stevens was awarded recently to four diverse fishery projects. The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, administrator for the funds, put out a call for proposals in September for projects targeting fish co-products, energy use and salmon education.
Four projects split the $100,000 payload, said AFDF director Jim Browning.
The fishermen-run Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association will target an outreach campaign towards educating legislators about the economic importance of commercial salmon fishing to the state.
Sand Point-based Aleutia, will use its funds to buy ice totes and chill monitoring equipment, and build its regional salmon branding program.
Browning said the City and Borough of Juneau intends to take the first step towards creating a fishermen’s direct marketing center.
“Juneau has talked about this for some time and they will use theis money to begin planning for a facility where all the direct marketers can work out of and have signage and everything else,” Browning said.
The final recipient, the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, will use its funds to create new and traditional media to promote Kodiak’s local seafood that is produced using renewable energy.
“Kodiak will highlight its three new wind turbines in a ‘sustainable renewable’ promotional campaign,” Browning said.
The Kodiak Chamber of Commerce received $20,000 in matching funds from the Kodiak borough. The Kodiak campaign is being developed by Seattle-based Waterfront Associates.
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