One of the casualties of this year’s budget cuts was funding for a program aimed at discovering why Alaska’s Chinook salmon stocks have been declining since 2007.
A five-year, $30 million Chinook Salmon Research Initiative launched in 2013 included more than 100 researchers focused on three dozen projects in 12 major river systems from Southeast to the Yukon. Now, the ambitious effort has been cut to just over one dozen projects.
“When we saw we weren’t going to get a third appropriation this fiscal year, we had to step back and narrow the focus, and make sure key projects still had money to continue for at least the next two years,” said Ed Jones, a coordinator with the state Sport Fish Division who oversees the initiative team.
The project has received two $7.5 million appropriations so far, and just over $6 million remains.
Two hearings this month could change the face of Alaska’s salmon fisheries forever.
On Aug. 21, the Department of Natural Resources will hear both sides on competing claims to water rights for salmon streams at Upper Cook Inlet’s Chuitna River or to a proposed coal mine. If DNR opts for the mine, the decision would set a state precedent.
The first seagoing electric powered passenger vessel in the U.S. is set to launch next summer in Juneau.
The E/V Tongass Rain is a 50-foot, 47-passenger catamaran designed for eco-education and whale-watching tours. Its primary fuel source will be rain, delivered to the boat via Juneau’s hydroelectric power grid and stored in a bank of lithium batteries.
The more modern batteries are less than half the weight of traditional lead acid batteries, and provide three times the power and charge three times as fast, said Bob Varness, president and manager of Tongass Rain Electric Cruise.
Shock and dismay were heard from Bristol Bay fishermen when they finally got word last week that major buyers would pay 50 cents a pound for their sockeye salmon. That’s a throwback to dock prices paid from 2002 through 2004, and compares to $1.20 advanced last year ($1.33 on average after price adjustments).
A late surge of reds produced catches of nearly 13 million in its final week, bringing the total by July 23 to 34.5 million fish. The fish were still trickling in, and state managers, who called the season an “anomaly,” said the final tally will likely reach the projected harvest of 37.6 million sockeye salmon.
Kodiak volunteers were scrambling with front end loaders and dump trucks to ready 200,000 pounds of super sacks for the first pick-up of a massive marine debris removal project that begins in Alaska this week.
The month-long clean-up — backed by a who’s who of state and federal agencies, nonprofits and private businesses — will deploy a 300-foot barge and helicopters to remove thousands of tons of marine debris from some of the world’s harshest and most remote coastlines.
“Upcycling” seafood byproducts is the business model for “Tidal Vision,” a Juneau-based company of five entrepreneurs who are making waves with their line of aquatic leather and performance textiles.
The start-up is making wallets, belts and other products from sheets of salmon skins using an all-natural, proprietary tanning formula from vegetable oils and other eco-friendly ingredients.
As Alaska’s salmon season heads into high gear, a few bright spots are surfacing in an otherwise bleak global sales market.
Sales and prices for all salmon (especially sockeye) have been in a slump all year. And amidst an overall glut of wild and farmed fish, Alaska is poised for another huge salmon haul, with the largest run of sockeye salmon in 20 years predicted along with a mega-pack of pinks.
Salmon fisheries are opening this month from one end of Alaska to the other. Total catches so far of mostly sockeye were under 1 million fish, but will add up fast from here on. A total haul for all Alaska salmon this season is pegged at 221 million fish.
A highlight so far is a 40 percent increase in troll action in Southeast, where nearly 300 fishermen are targeting king salmon. That’s likely due to a boosted price averaging $7.54 a pound, up $1.88 from last year.
Alaskans will have to wait until fall to learn if salmon habitat prevails over a coal mine proposed at Upper Cook Inlet.
A decision due earlier this month by the State Department of Natural Resources has been delayed until after a public hearing later this summer, said Ed Fogels, DNR Deputy Commissioner.
Nowhere in the world do people have as much opportunity to speak their minds to fish policy makers as they do in Alaska. As decision day approaches, a groundswell of Alaska voices is demanding that fishery overseers say bye-bye to halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea.
They are speaking out against the more than 6 million pounds of halibut that are dumped overboard each year as bycatch in trawl fisheries that target flounder, rockfish, perch, mackerel and other groundfish (not pollock).