Alaska spends more than $20 million on fish feed each year for its 35 salmon hatcheries — feed that comes primarily from anchovies caught in South America. Meanwhile, Alaska seafood processing companies produce more than 200,000 tons of fishmeal each year — for customers in Asia.
Last year, 33 million fish — 20 percent of the total Alaska salmon harvest — originated in hatcheries; in some years, the figure has topped 30 percent. At Prince William Sound, for example, 73 percent of the salmon catch originated in local hatcheries.
It’s back to the drawing board for halibut iTags that will soon tell us more about where the fish travels than ever before.
The internal tags, which were deployed in 30 halibut two years ago, were the first to test Smart Phone geomagnetic advances to track the migrations of fish. The tags record magnetic field strength on three axises and have accelerometers and pitch and roll detectors, explained Tim Loher, a biologist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
“Without being able to tell whether or not your tag is horizontal, you can’t really get the axis of the magnetism. The invention of the iPhone pointed the way to make the pitch and roll detectors small enough to put in fish tags,” he said.
Amid the salmon fisheries starting up all across the state, several Alaska crab seasons also get underway each summer. In mid June, the summer Dungeness crab fishery opens in the panhandle, as does red king crab at Norton Sound. Those are followed in August by golden kings along the far flung Aleutian Islands, which might soon take the title as Alaska’s largest king crab fishery.
Unlike other Bering Sea crab stocks, surveys on golden kings have been limited due to distance and high costs. The deep water stocks have sustained a fishery for 30 years, but managers aren’t sure about what’s really going on down there.
Sandhill Crane pairs usually return to the same breeding territory each year, as long as habitat conditions remain suitable. Suitable habitat includes nest site, roosting area, feeding area, and sometimes isolation. Last year colts who return with their parents from the previous year are driven away when the mated pair is ready to begin nesting. Males typically establishing breeding territories close to where they were born.
Sandhill Cranes are ground nesters, building their nests primarily in wetlands, but also in upland grassy areas. Cranes create a nest from whatever plants are available. In the Homer area, cranes use both wetlands and upland areas. Known nests consist primarily of grasses and sedges. When the cranes return in the spring, the grasses and sedges are dull brown in color, offering cranes sufficient camouflage to help prevent detection from predators. Cranes often paint their feathers with mud to help them blend in with surrounding vegetation.
Alaska’s commercial fisheries programs could get a slight boost if the Governor’s budget for the next fiscal year gets a nod from legislators.
The proposed FY2013 operating budget for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, including all state and federal funds, is just over $209 million, a 5.1 percent increase. For commercial fisheries, the department’s most expensive unit, a budget of $70.5 million is a 4.4 percent increase.
Gov. Parnell also is proposing a bond package that includes $10 million to help Seward prepare to homeport large at-sea processing boats owned by communities in the Kuskokwim region. The vessels now are based in Seattle, and it could begin a transfer of other big boats to remain in Alaska year round.
New rules set for 2013 will change how observers are placed on fishing boats as small as 40 feet – and for the first time, they will be aboard longliners.
Onboard observers have been deployed on larger U.S. vessels since the early 1990’s, when fisheries were “Americanized” and all foreign fishing within a 200 mile zone of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska was terminated. Prior to that, fleets from Japan, Russia, Poland and other nations were tapping Alaska’s groundfish and crab resources starting in 1933.
It took nearly two years for a decision, but last week the state denied a citizens’ petition aimed at protecting Cook Inlet fisheries from coal mining. The petition, by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper asked that buffer zones be required to protect salmon streams of the Chuitna River should a coal mine be built. In a 109-page report, Dept. of Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan claimed the petitioners’ request would ‘ban all surface coal mining on these lands.’
The Chuitna strip mine, so called because it removes wetlands and land overlay, would be the largest coal mine in Alaska.
State officials say there is “no reason to panic” and that Alaska salmon are “relatively safe” from a deadly fish virus that has appeared for the first time in Pacific waters.
“I would say the risk right now for Alaska salmon is low,” said Dr. Ted Meyers, a fish pathologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Meyers added that the state is “sort of in a holding pattern,” awaiting more information.
Bering Sea crabbers got good news and bad news last week when catch quotas were announced for fisheries that open next week.
The bad news: the catch for Alaska’s most famous crab fishery – Bristol Bay red kings – was slashed by 47 percent to just 7.8 million pounds. Crabbers were expecting a reduced harvest, but they were shocked by the big drop.
The crab harvest is the second lowest since 2001 when 7.1 million pounds were taken, according to Wayne Donaldson, a longtime crab biologist at ADF&G in Kodiak.