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).
How much are fishermen affected by long-term health problems like hearing loss, lack of sleep and high blood pressure? A pilot study aims to find out, and researchers are using the 500-plus members of the Copper River salmon driftnet fleet as test subjects.
“The Copper River fishing season lasts five months, and most of the fleet is very digitally connected, so it seemed a great fit,” said Torie Baker, a Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent in Cordova.
Each year, more than one third of all the salmon caught in Alaska begin their lives in a hatchery.
There are 31 hatchery facilities in Alaska: 15 privately owned, 11 state-owned, two federal research facilities, one tribal hatchery at Metlakatla and two state-owned sport fish hatcheries.
Alaska’s hatchery program is very different from fish farming, where salmon are crammed tightly into net pens until they’re ready for market. All salmon born in Alaska’s hatcheries come from wild brood stock, and are released as fingerlings to the sea. When those fish return home, they make a huge contribution to the catch.
A mile-long string of 29 sablefish pots was lost last month in Prince William Sound after being run over by tugs towing barges at Knight Island Passage.
“It appears that some tug boats passed back and forth across where the gear was set, and now we have no idea where it is,” said Maria Wessel, a groundfish biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office at Cordova.
The pots are part of an ongoing tagging study started in 2011 to track the movement of the Sound’s sablefish stock. It was intended to be the third test run for the project.
Caribou instead of corn dogs; salmon instead of Trout Treasures; seal meat in place of spaghetti; all could soon be available to more Alaskans if traction continues on a new bipartisan bill before the Alaska Legislature.
The bill — HB 179 — allows schools, senior centers, hospitals, child care centers and other facilities to accept and serve fish, game, plants and eggs that are donated by subsistence and sport users.
File this fish story under the “can there be too much of a good thing?” category.
Alaska is expecting another bumper run of salmon this year — state managers announced last Friday a projected total catch of 221 million salmon, 39 percent higher than last year. (Numbers for Chinook salmon are still being calculated.)
Regional catch projections for this summer are up across the board, according to Runs and Harvest Projections for Alaska’s 2015 Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2014 season by the AK Dept. of Fish and Game.
The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s revamped online store is the go-to place for all fishing (and hunting) licenses, and it now offers two new features.
“Fishermen, both sport and commercial, can now print their licenses at home,” said Michelle Kaelke, Financing and Licensing Supervisor for the department. “They can purchase it online, immediately print it and go out fishing.”
“They can buy it before they go out to the fishing grounds, or if they’re traveling from Seattle or wherever, they can have everything ready for when they head up to Alaska,” she added.
A nearly $12 million cut in state funds is on tap for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game if state policymakers have their way. That was one early outcome of legislative house finance subcommittee meetings last week, as they wrapped up the first step in a budget process that will see cuts in agencies and programs almost across the board.
According to Juneau Resources Weekly, the ADF&G budget reductions cut across all divisions, with sport fishing facing the most personnel losses at 12 seasonal jobs. The Division of Habitat could lose $400,000; commercial fishing programs are set to lose five positions and an additional $2 million in general fund support.
Right after the yearly halibut catch limits are announced each January, brokers are usually busy with buying, selling and transferring shares of the catch. But it’s been slow going so far, even with slight harvest increases in almost all Alaska fishing areas for the first time in nearly a decade. The buyers are there – it’s the sellers that are scarce.
“There’s less of a rush this year, but there are less quota shares available,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits at Petersburg. “We’ve had some good sales in Southeast (2C), and we’re seeing very strong interest for halibut quota pretty much across the board. But shares for both halibut and sablefish are practically non-existent in the Central Gulf. I think the increases in both areas and the higher prices might bring out some more sellers, and of course, the buyers are sitting there waiting.”
Last year was one of the busiest years ever for Alaska brokers who help fishermen buy, sell and trade fishing permits and quota shares.
“I was happy to see such a good mix of permits we were selling – it wasn’t just one thing,” said Olivia Olsen of Alaska Quota and Permits in Petersburg. “We had many Dungeness crab permits, charter halibut permits, salmon and shrimp permits, sea cucumbers and whatever IFQs we could find.”
Salmon permit sales peak from March through May, and early indicators point to lower salmon prices this year in a plentiful market. A strong U.S. dollar against the Yen, Euro and other currencies also makes it more expensive for foreign customers to buy Alaska salmon. At the same time, record numbers of cheaper, farmed salmon continue to flood into the U.S. from Norway and Chile.