Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Markets Look Strong for Wild Salmon Season Ahead

Market indicators show strong demand and good prices for Alaska’s upcoming wild salmon season, according to seafood economist and Executive Director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Andy Wink.

“Market conditions are pretty strong,” said Wink, in an early spring forecast. “We’ve seen pricing increase in the last year for sockeyes, [while] the price of farmed salmon has gone sideways.” The amount of frozen sockeye exported from the US between January and October 2018 was equivalent to the previous year’s numbers, about 35,000 frozen tons, but the value increased by 22 percent. What’s different?

“First of all, we are seeing the quality, particularly from the Bristol Bay fishery, improve year to year, so we are seeing less discount on lower quality product,” Wink said.

There is also strong market demand globally for wild and farmed salmon. China is importing more and more salmon, including farmed salmon to make sushi. Demand from the European markets remains strong, although not as much as China or the US.

“All the direct markets have done a fantastic job of cultivating the Alaska image, the Alaska brand,” said Wink, a former economist for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “They associate Alaska with premium products. A lot of consumers will ask ‘do you have Alaska salmon?’ But there are five species and they come from all over the state, Alaska salmon, even though it has a strong, positive image, it is not a specific thing.”

“The benefit of marketing Bristol Bay sockeye is it is a specific product and we have large volumes, frozen H&G (headed and gutted), and frozen fillets, he said. “When you talk to retailors, they acknowledge that fresh, high quality salmon will sell itself. Customers come in during the summer and buy it, but they don’t know when the salmon run. They just know they can get salmon, but a lot of people want wild salmon. With frozen and refreshed salmon you can buy it all year.”

New wild salmon products are continuously being introduced to retail markets. Costco stores in Alaska now offer refreshed wild Alaska sockeye salmon fillets year-round, while Target sales Simply Balanced packages of ready to bake and eat wild caught Alaska sockeye salmon fillets and Pacific cod.

In early February, Costco stores in Anchorage, Alaska introduced Wild Alaska Salmon Corn Chowder from the Portland, Oregon-based company Fishpeople. Each box contains six 10-ounce pouches of chowder ready to heat, either by microwaving or in boiling water. Target stores in other states are selling one-pound packages of wild-caught Alaska sockeye by Marine Harvest, a producer of farmed salmon products based in Bergen, Norway.

Pteropods Provide Look into Ocean Acidification

A scientist with the Southern California Coastal Research Center who studies pteropods – key forage for a variety of fish including juvenile salmon, sole and pollock – says they are being affected by ocean acidification in the Beaufort Sea and Western Gulf of Alaska.

Nina Bednarsek discussed the findings of her research team during a recent presentation at the annual Alaska Marine Science Symposium.

Due to their extreme sensitivity, these tiny ocean snails serve as a kind of canary in the coal mine, an excellent ocean acidification indicator, with the potential to provide insight into changes in the ecosystem integrity, which is essential to effective fisheries and marine resource management, she noted. Bednarsek and fellow researchers developed baseline information on several species – including species distribution and incidence of shell dissolution and their coupling with ocean acidification parameters –during several trips to the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Beaufort Sea between 2014 and 2017. The results, she said, demonstrate the biological vulnerability to ocean acidification across different high latitudinal environments.

Bednarsek said the Beaufort Sea pteropods were the most affected, followed by those found in the western part of the Gulf of Alaska, while at least seasonally the Bering Sea pteropods have not yet shown signs of vulnerability.

Bednarsek said that ultimately the study would contribute to robust baseline data sets that will help to recognize potential refuges and habitats of concern, to identify priorities for future monitoring, and provide information to better manage ecosystems in the larger subarctic and Arctic ecosystems.

False Pass Processing Capacity to Increase

Economic activity at Alaska’s False Pass is expected to ramp up considerably this summer as Silver Bay Seafoods opens its processing facilities in June.

The company, headquartered in Sitka, Alaska, plans to process salmon as well as white fish at its newest location. “It means in a town of 58 residents, there will be more jobs available than people to fill them,” noted Laura Tanis, communications director for the Aleutians East Borough, in a recent article for the borough’s online publication “In the Loop.”

Currently there are about 200 seasonal employees working at the only processor in town, False Pass Seafoods, formerly BPS, owned by Trident Seafoods and APICDA Joint Ventures, a subsidiary of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association.

The number of processor workers is expected to jump to about 500 once Silver Bay comes on line. Silver Bay Seafoods is an integrated processor of frozen, headed and gutted salmon products for domestic and export markets. The company, which began as a single salmon processing facility in Sitka in 2007, also has processing facilities at Naknek, Valdez, Sitka, Craig and Metlakatla.

Alaska Sea Grant Schedules Oil Spill Workshop

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound an oil spill workshop is planned for Feb. 20-21 in Anchorage, Alaska, as part of a national series sponsored by the Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program.

The event, a collaboration of the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative; and Sea Grant programs around the country, will focus on public health, social disruption and the economic impacts of major spills. The goal is to identify specific regional needs and priorities for improving preparedness. Presenters from the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, the Alaska Ocean Observing System, the US Coast Guard and Sea Grant hope to come away with protocols to build resilience in the event of future spills.

The Exxon Valdez environmental disaster polluted thousands of square kilometers of sea surface just before the arrival in Prince William Sound of the annual migrations of fish, birds and sea mammals.

The spill has been the subject of renewed discussion as the anniversary date approaches. Retired NOAA research chemist Jeff Short, a lead chemist for the state and federal government in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster, spoke about the legacy of the spill at the recent 2019 Alaska Marine Science Symposium presented in Anchorage, Alaska. Short noted that research funded by a $900 million fund from the settlement has led to major discoveries regarding effects of the spill, including the ecotoxicology of oil pollution, the persistence of oil and long-term impairment of marine life populations. That research had direct benefit in early detection of abrupt ecosystem changes, such as oceanographic regime shifts and the recent marine heat wave in the Gulf of Alaska, known as “the Blob.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

IPHC Gives Small Boost to Halibut Catch Limits

Commissioners of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) have set the commercial catch limit for 2019 at 38.61 million pounds, up from 37.21 million pounds a year ago. The action came on Feb. 1 during the 95th meeting of the organization in Victoria, British Columbia.

“We are reasonably happy with overall numbers and glad some progress [has been] made with Canada, but disappointed commissioners did not follow unanimous recommendation from stakeholders on distribution of catch between areas,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, Alaska.

“We feel like the overall catch limit was conservative, responsive to current stock status; that there was progress made in identifying equitable sharing of the catch with Canada, but we were a little surprised by the distribution of catch between areas,” Behnken said. “The one disappointment was the commissioners did not follow what was a precedent setting unanimous support from the US harvesters and processors on the distribution of catch limits across Alaska areas, but deviated from that somewhat.”

The change in projections, which prompted the small boost in catch limits, is based on the revised estimated strength of the 2011 and 2012 classes, but Behnken noted that it is “still too soon to be sure of year class strengths, so [there is] a fair bit of uncertainty and fishermen are uncomfortable with being too optimistic.” “I feel like 3A got less fish in order to balance the books on area 2A, 2B and 2C,” said Malcolm Milne, a longliner and president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association in Homer. “Canada was guaranteed a harvest based on a formula that weighed their harvest over the last five years, which far exceeded the IPHC recommendations.

“The IPHC is an independent scientific body with a well-educated professional staff that gives the commission science-based recommendations that are negotiated both in total harvest and by area allocations, Milne said. “A year-by-year comparison of the IPHC recommended catch levels versus the adopted catch levels clearly demonstrates how much overharvest has been negotiated,” he added.

US Commissioner Chris Oliver, the administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said that while the overall quota is a slight increase over 2018 the catch limits agreed to at the meeting “reflect a sensible, conservative approach that will secure the future of this iconic and economically important species. We solved several challenging international fishery management issues and we accomplished our goal in the spirit of cooperation and compromise.”

The IPHC set the catch limits by areas as follows: 2A (California, Oregon and Washington, 1.65 million pounds; 2B (British Columbia) 6.83 million pounds; 2C (Southeast Alaska) 6.34 million pounds; 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska) 13.50 million pounds; 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska) 2.90 million pounds; 4A (Eastern Aleutians) 1.94 million pounds; 4B (Central/Western Aleutians) 1.45 million pounds; 4 CDE (Bering Sea) 4.00 million pounds.

Study Finds Climate Changes Ocean Color

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say climate change is causing significant alterations to phytoplankton that will affect the ocean’s color, intensifying its blue and its green regions.

Reporting on their findings in the open access journal Nature Communications, the researchers said satellites should detect these fluctuations in hue, providing early warning of wide-scale changes to marine ecosystems. The researchers said they have developed a global model that simulates the growth and interaction of different species of phytoplankton, or algae, and how the mix of species in various locations will change as temperatures rise around the world. They also simulated the way phytoplankton absorb and reflect light, and how the color of the ocean varies as global warming affects the makeup of phytoplankton communities.

They predict that by 2100 more than 50 percent of the world’s oceans will shift in color, due to climate change.

Their research suggests that blue regions, such as the subtropics, will become even more blue, reflecting even less phytoplankton and life in general in those waters, compared with the current status. Some regions that are now greener, such as those near the poles, may turn even deeper green, as warmer temperatures brew up large blooms of more diverse phytoplankton.

Lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz said their model suggests that changes won’t appear huge to the naked eye, and the ocean will still look like it has blue regions in the subtropics and greener regions near the equator and poles, “but it’ll be enough different that it will affect the rest of the food web that phytoplankton supports,” she said. “It could be potentially quite serious,” she added. “Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, that will also change the types of food webs they can support.”

The study was also reported at EurakAlert, the online journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

GE Salmon Labeling Bill Reintroduced in Senate

Bipartisan legislation to assure clear labeling on any genetically engineered (GE) salmon products has been reintroduced in the US Senate.

The legislation by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would specifically ensure that GE salmon products entering the US marketplace are clearly labeled “genetically engineered” in the market name. Co-sponsors are Senators Maria Cantwell, D- WA, Jeff Merkley, D-OR, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

The US Department of Agriculture last month published labeling guidelines for genetically engineered foods, including GE salmon, with what Murkowski described as weak requirements that could confuse consumers, potentially paving a way for GE salmon to enter domestic markets without clear labels.

“USDA’s new guidelines don’t require mandatory labeling and instead allow producers to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers, which is a far stretch from giving consumers clear information,” Murkowski said. “There’s a huge difference between genetically-engineered salmon and the healthy, sustainably-caught, wild Alaska salmon. My legislation will ensure that consumers have all the facts, allowing them to make more informed decisions when they purchase salmon.”

The senator said consumers have the right to know what they are eating. “When you splice DNA from another animal and combine it with farmed salmon, you are essentially creating a new species and I have serious concerns with that,” she said. “If we are going to allow this fabricated fish to be sold in stores, we must ensure there is at least clear labeling.”

Murkowski’s campaign to assure clear labeling of GE salmon began when the US Food and Drug Administration announced its decision in late 2015 to approve GE salmon for human consumption. Murkowski vowed to block the confirmation of cardiologist Dr. Robert Califf as FDA commissioner until her concerns on labeling guidelines for GE salmon were resolved. She then secured a provision in the omnibus bill to block the FDA from introducing GE salmon into the market until it published labeling guidelines to make consumers aware of what they are purchasing.

In January 2016, the FDA announced an import ban on GE salmon until those labeling guidelines were published. Murkowski lifted her hold on Califf’s nomination only after the FDA provided her with technical drafting assistance on legislative language to effectively mandate labeling of the GE salmon. Several months later Murkowski voted against the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Act, which would have allowed for voluntary, rather than mandatory, labeling of GE salmon. In July 2017, she introduced legislation to mandate labeling of GE salmon.

FN Online Advertising