by Laine Welch
Kodiak’s roe herring fishery began April 15 with little notice and rumors of fire sale prices. The fleet of 22 seiners was down a bit; they are competing for a harvest of 5,800 short tons, similar to the past five years. No gillnetters signed up for the fishery. Test fishing from the east side of the island was showing nice roe counts, said James Jackson, herring manager at ADF&G in Kodiak.
“We are fishing a predominantly older age class of mostly nine year olds, and it looks like we are hitting those fish right now,” he said. “They are about 250 to 300-gram fish, with 12.5 percent roe counts, so it looks pretty good.”
Female herring are valued in Japan for the amount of roe they contain as a percent of body weight. As much as 90 percent of male and female carcasses are mostly just ground up and dumped.
Talk of an advance price of $150 to $200 was the word on the Kodiak docks, down by half from last year. Virtually all of Alaska’s herring roe goes to a single market, where hefty supplies reportedly remain in warehouse freezers.
Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak is poised to take off with a harvest of nearly 28,000 tons. With the market in a slump and prices in the pits, some were calling for the fishery to remain closed.
“It’s not worth going over there,” said Dillingham’s Robin Samuelson, Chair of Bristol Bay Economic Development Association and lifelong fisherman. “A lot of fishermen say we need to hold our spot in case prices comes up. I personally feel fish are more important to the ecosystem at $50-$65 a ton than catching them. We need to look at how we can capitalize on that market.”
The base price for roe herring last month at Sitka Sound was $150, compared to $600 in 2013. The price last year at Togiak was about $100/ton.
But things are looking up! A bill just passed by Alaska lawmakers expands the Salmon Product Development Tax Credits to include herring. Senate Bill 71, sponsored by Senator Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna), will enable processors to purchase equipment and make investments in more valuable herring products, such as canned, powdered, pickled and smoked.
“There have been positive trends since this bill was originally enacted (for salmon) in 2003, including product diversity, increased state revenues from the fisheries business tax and increased permit prices,” Micciche said in a press release.
The bill was also expanded to include new product development from fishery byproducts.
Alaska’s seafood industry will soon enter into a 10-step training program designed to improve good behaviors by Alaska’s seafood processing workers as they turn fish into food.
“This is such a critical point for the industry; you have no quality, you have no control,” said Brian Himelbloom, a microbiologist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “There’s a lot of turnover in the seafood industry, and this is something that’s been talked about for a long time.”
Armed with a $40,000 grant from Icicle Seafoods, Himelbloom and his colleagues will create 10 modules to guide a QC training program. Icicle CEO Amy Humphreys said, “the training will ensure more Alaskans are qualified for quality control jobs, and help others advance their careers.”
The modules will include onboard handling and quality of the catch, principles of Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points, practical seafood sanitation, seafood processing and preservation, adding value to seafood products, seafood safety and quality, sensory analysis of seafood products, quality control programs for both whitefish and salmon and seafood byproducts utilization and management of processing wastes.
The final module covers interfacing with regulatory agencies and record-keeping in the seafood industry.
For the first time since 1990, the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce has called off its famous fisheries debate due to non-participation by candidates.
Dan Sullivan’s campaign claims a military commitment and Joe Miller has not responded at all. All candidates received letters of invitation in mid-January to the May 23 debate, which this year coincides with the annual Kodiak Crab Festival. Mead Treadwell was the first to confirm, followed quickly by Senator Begich.
“It is unfortunate that some of the candidates weren’t able to work this debate into their schedules,” said Trevor Brown, Kodiak Chamber executive director. “I can imagine they are extremely busy and must have some considerable obligations to pass up an opportunity to talk about issues that affect such a large portion of our state’s population. It is a true loss to all the fishing communities in the state.”
The two-hour debate, limited to topics relevant to Alaska’s seafood industry, is broadcast live to every Alaska community via the Alaska Public Radio Network. Another fisheries debate featuring candidates for governor is set for Aug. 28 in Kodiak. All candidates have already confirmed their participation.
Ocean Beauty Seafoods was awarded the 2014 Supplier of the Year award by Whole Foods Markets for consistently providing the grocer with Alaska salmon and halibut.
Whole Foods said Ocean Beauty’s fish products meet its strict specifications, and that it “admires Ocean Beauty’s partnering with port buyers to ensure fishermen are recognized and treated with respect.”
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