by Laine Welch
Alaska’s 2011 salmon season officially gets underway in two weeks.
While trollers in Southeast Alaska provide Chinook salmon to markets nearly year round (their spring fishery got under way April 25), it is the runs of reds and kings to the famous Copper River that mark the official start of Alaska’s salmon season. State managers have announced May 16 as the first opener there, three days later than last year.
The Copper River forecast calls for a catch of 1.2 million sockeye salmon, 9,000 kings and 293,000 cohos this season. Fingers are crossed that the catch will come in on target, unlike last year when Copper River salmon catches were well below the 10 year averages. Sockeyes, for example, yielded a harvest of 636,000 fish, about half of what was expected.
Overall, last year’s statewide salmon catch of 171 million fish was valued at $534 million at the Alaska docks, the best showing in 18 years. (And that doesn’t include bonuses or other post-season price adjustments.) State managers predict even better salmon catches this year – nearly 204 million fish. If the catch comes in on target, it will be the fifth largest salmon harvest on record.
The boost stems from a projected pink catch topping 133 million fish, about 25 percent higher than last year. All major pink salmon regions – Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast – are expected to produce abundant humpy harvests.
Projected catches are up for the other salmon species as well: sockeye, the big money fish, is pegged at nearly 45 million; the coho catch is set at 4.6 million, and for chums a harvest of nearly 20 million would be the fifth best since 1960. For king salmon, a catch just shy of 122,000 is expected in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where a treaty with Canada dictates the amount of Chinook that can be taken. The Southeast Chinook catch for all users is pegged at just under 295,000 fish, 73,000 more than last year.
Here’s a look at the statewide average dock prices per pound for 2010, with comparisons to 2009 prices, in parentheses: Chinook salmon – $3.44 ($2.76); sockeye – $1.11 is (90 cents); coho – $1.05 (93 cents); pink salmon – 35 cents (26 cents); chums – 66 cents (49 cents).
Last year all Alaska regions except for Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula saw increased values for their total salmon catches. Kodiak dropped from $39 million to around $28 million; the Alaska Peninsula went from $31 million to about $23 million in salmon values.
Lobster balls – Innovators at the University of Maine are turning tons of discarded, ground up lobster shells into biodegradable golf balls.“It gives the correct density for the core and the golf ball overall, and it’s pretty easy to work with as well so that’s an added bonus,” said Alex Caddell, a bio-engineering student who developed the lobster golf ball with his professor, David Neivandt.
Caddell, an avid golfer, said in trials the lobster balls yield 70-80 percent of the distance of regular models. But they are as good, if not better, than other biodegradables on the market with one big advantage.
“It can be hit with both an iron and a driver,” Caddell explained in a phone interview. “It can withstand the impact of a driver without damaging it as some other biodegradable balls do.”
Another big advantage – the raw materials for the lobster golf balls cost about 19 cents, compared to a dollar a pop for other biodegradables. Caddell said the lobster golf balls, which dissolve in about three weeks, are good for driving ranges close to water – but the main market is cruise ships.
“They used to allow regular golf balls to be hit off the back of cruise ships until the dumping of plastics was banned in 1999. So hopefully that is where we would get most of our customers,” he said.
It is a trade secret how they actually use the lobster shells, and the creators have applied for a provisional patent which allows them to release the news to the press and still retain rights to the product.
The next step, Caddell said, is to ramp up production and make sure the lobster golf balls can be reproduced on a larger scale. He added that they hope to obtain other filler materials – “like crab shells which likely have the same properties we are looking for.”
Ideally, the team hopes to have the lobster balls available in a year or so.
“Hopefully, we can find some companies that are interested both on the production and ownership side and who want to market it for us,” Caddell said. “We are really open to anything.
Besides the market potential of the biodegradable golf balls, a main goal of the project is to help keep tonnage out of local landfills and to help lobstermen add value to their catches.
The ground up lobster shells also are being turned into biodegradable plant pots. And other Maine entrepreneurs are using shells of lobsters, scallops, clams and mussels mixed with recycled glass to create high end tiles and tabletops.
Fish bucks bucked – For nearly 50 years a multimillion dollar fund to promote and market U.S. seafood has been largely ignored. The money, mandated by the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act of 1954, comes from a 30 percent tariff paid to the U.S. Customs Service on imported seafood and ocean products. Congress mandated the money be spent on “improved technology, quality improvements, domestic and foreign market development and other uses for the U.S. seafood industry.”
But, according to the Congressional Research Service, only token dollars have gone towards the fishing industry. Instead, 80 to 90 percent each year has gone to NOAA operations, research and facilities.
“Get over it,” said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, a global marketing expert for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and national chair for United Fishermen of Alaska. “We wish it was there for marketing purposes but it’s not. It’s been gone for a long, long time.”
Schactler said he doesn’t begrudge the diverted dollars because so much has changed with the nation’s fisheries since 1954.
“For example, when the Magnuson-Stevens Act came about in the mid-1970s, we had to begin developing U.S. fisheries, which means doing stock assessments, and research and management clear out to 200 miles. So the money was diverted for other good reasons. We don’t see any conspiracy or back room deals. Things are simply a lot different now,” he said.
Schactler and UFA have spearheaded a National Seafood Marketing Coalition that has so far grown to 70 members in 26 states. He said the Coalition has no plans to go after the diverted dollars, because it could have unexpected results.
“Rather than going after NOAA and basically robbing Peter to pay Paul, you might end up losing some fisheries because of it,” he explained.
Schactler added that millions more dollars from import duties and tariffs pass through the US Customs Office each year. The Coalition aims to tap that for a $100 million national seafood marketing fund. He calls it an “investment program in U.S. jobs and economic development.”
“This is all about food. It is not about fishing or fish – we regard this as a jobs program for American food producers,” he said. “We are competing with protein in the world market from soybeans in Idaho to other seafoods from Southeast Asia. It’s a world protein market and we are right in the middle of it.
The concept of a national seafood fund has strong support from Alaska’s delegation, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. A bill on Congressional letterhead with potential sponsors and co sponsors is in discussion to be introduced to federal lawmakers soon.
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