Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No Immediate Danger from ISA Virus Says Pathologist

By Margaret Bauman

Alaska’s chief fish pathologist said Dec. 7 that the state’s wild Pacific salmon stocks are in no immediate danger from the infectious salmon anemia virus, a pathogen linked to fish farming that has killed millions of salmon in Chile and Europe.

“I think science will prevail and at some point we will get some answers, but I don’t think our wild stocks are in immediate jeopardy,” said Ted Meyers, in a telephone interview from his Juneau office.

“I think we need to get more information. We need to first corroborate the research that has already been done (in Canada) and reexamine it. The current testing in Canada has looked at over 5,000 farmed fish and 500 wild fish and they have never found a pathogenic virus,” he said.

As for the newly released reports that the virus was detected a decade ago, Meyers said “ It would have been nice if the scientific community had been apprised of those results. If the information had been released then (in 2002) it would have diffused the hysteria of the rediscovery.”

Meyers, who has been in steady contact with his Canadian counterparts, spoke after news emerged of an unpublished report that the virus was detected a decade ago off British Columbia’s coast. The virus is not harmful to humans, but it is known to devastate farmed salmon stocks and there is concern that the ISA could spread to wild Pacific stocks.

Meyers noted that there are different strains of ISA virus, the pathogen strains found in Atlantic salmon, and the ancestral or wild strain, which is non-pathogenic and found in wild stocks in Norway.

The pathogenic strain causes destruction of cells and produces disease in the host fish, while the ancestral strain co-exists very nicely with the host fish without causing disease, he said.

“It’s like a virus in humans,” he said. “Some are benign and some are not.”
What likely happened is that when fish farming was put into place in Canada the ancestral strain mutated into the farmed Atlantic salmon, and it is entirely feasible that we have our own Pacific strain as well, he said.

Canadian authorities have been doing required testing of farmed salmon in that nation for about eight years and no pathogenic strains of the virus have been found, he said. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is a molecular test to detect nucleonic acids from the target organism researchers are trying to detect.

“They have not, to their knowledge, imported any pathogenic virus from wherever they have gotten their Atlantic salmon eggs, he said, “so they need to corroborate the 2002 information of a non-pathogenic strain in wild stocks and then we can go from there,” he said.

Alaska, meanwhile is participating in a planning program with the state of Washington and federal agencies, for similar testing, but it will take a while to establish what will be done, what laboratories will do it, and to be sure surveillance tests are in place.

“We would sample our own fish in Alaska, incorporate those fish into our usual programs for other disease pathogens,” he said. “We do it every year. We look at our own stocks for different viruses and would incorporate ISA virus testing as one of those.”

News of the unpublished 2002 studies has prompted much concern, with the Los Angeles Times calling the issue “Salmongate,” and the News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington expressing its editorial viewpoint that there is something fishy about Canada’s response to salmon virus reports.

Almost a decade ago, it turns out, there were reports of a European strain of ISA in 117 fish from Alaska to Vancouver Island, though none of the fish were sick, the newspaper noted. This led the fisheries biologist Molly Kibenge to surmise that a nonlethal form of ISA may be present in Northwest wild salmon.

“The fear with ISA has always been that it could mutate into a lethal form. Yet Canadian fishery officials failed to follow up on Kibenge’s research and neglected to inform their American counterparts of her findings. The only reason the news is getting out now is that Kibenge and her husband, a noted fish virologist, went public after her request to publish her old data was denied.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, on Dec. 1 expressed her concern on the status of the virus reports. “These troubling reports reinforce the need for a coordinated, multi-national strategy to control the spread of this virus threat,” Cantwell said. “American and Canadian scientists need to have access to all relevant research on this deadly virus. We can’t afford to leave the Pacific Northwest’s fishery jobs at risk.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration what details, if any, were known by the US of the previous research, and how this new information is being taken into account in plans to expand testing efforts.

Murkowski said she was troubled when reports appeared earlier this fall of the ISA virus being in fisheries. “But now I am absolutely alarmed that this was not the first our neighbors to the east had heard of this, and had sat on critical information for ten years, putting us 10 years behind in addressing this situation,” she said.

Economic Value of Bristol Bay Fisheries Estimated at $4.1-$5.4 Billion Annually

Commercial fisheries in Southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay, with its highly productive marine ecosystems and bountiful fisheries, generate economic activity equivalent to $4.1billion to $5.4 billion annually, the World Wildlife Fund says.

The details are contained in a report prepared for the environmental organization by Ecotrust, in Portland, Oregon, and released in late December.

Study authors said that the health of Bristol Bay fisheries is not only economically important to the region, but to the nation and the world as a whole, because participants in that fishery and the retailers from whom consumers purchase these wild seafood products come from all over the world.

The Bristol Bay marine ecosystem is well known as the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. It also produces chum salmon, Chinook salmon, red king crab, Pacific halibut and other commercially valuable species.

Average annual landings value from 2005 to 2008 for Bristol Bay commercial fisheries was $463 million, including $154 million for the salmon fishery alone.

The total economic value of commercial harvest may range from a high of $889 million annually to a low of $673 million annually, with the Bristol Bay salmon fishery alone supporting total economic activity in the range of $246 million to $253 million per year, the report said.

Study authors note that the direct value of the fishery at every step supports secondary economic activities. They write that “as the fishery input moves along the value-chain, fishermen and their crew; bait and tackle shop owners and their employees, processors and their workers and suppliers, and retailers earn income,” the report notes. “To the extent that they spend that income on other consumer goods and services, they induce even more secondary economic activity. The multiplier effect captures the indirect and induced economic activity resulting from each step along the supply chain.”

Study Shows Unexpectedly High Ecological Effects of Oil Spills on Herring

A study published in the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) says bunker fuel spilled from a damaged cargo in 2007 had an unexpectedly lethal affect on Pacific herring embryos in San Francisco Bay.

The study, published Dec. 26, by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and their collaborators, suggests an interaction between sunlight and the chemicals in oil might be responsible.

The issue stems from the November 2007 spill of 54,000 gallons of bunker fuel, a combination of diesel and residual fuel oil, from the container ship Cosco Busan. The spill contaminated the shoreline near the spawning habitat of the largest population of Pacific herring on the West Coast. The Los Angeles Times noted that owners and operators of the vessel agreed in September to pay $44.4 million to cover government claims, cost of the cleanup and restoration programs. In addition to tarring about 30 percent of the herring spawning grounds in the bay, the spill killed some 6,800 seabirds and closed beaches for months, the Times said.

Two decades of toxicity research since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound has shown that fish embryos and larvae are particularly vulnerable to spilled oil.

Most catastrophic spills, such as the Exxon Valdez event, involve large volumes of crude oil. However, residual oils used in bunker fuels are the leftovers of crude oil refining, and are not as well studied as crude oils, the study notes. Bunker fuel is used in maritime shipping worldwide and accidental bunker spills are more and more common and widespread than large crude oil spills.

In this study, scientists found that herring embryos placed in cages in relatively deep water at oiled sites developed subtle but important heart defects consistent with findings in previous studies. In contrast, almost all the embryos that naturally spawned in nearby shallower waters in the same time period died. When scientists sampled naturally spawned embryos from the same sites two years later, mortality rates in both shallower and deeper waters had returned to pre-spill levels.

NOAA toxicologist John Incardona, lead author of the study, said based on what scientists know about the effects of crude oil on early life stages in fish, they expected to find live embryos with abnormal heart function, so it was a surprise to find so many embryos in the shallow waters literally falling apart.

“The study has given us a new perspective on oil threats in sunlit habitats, particularly for translucent animals such as herring embryos,” Incardona said. “The chemical composition of residual oils can vary widely, so the question remains whether we would see the same thing with other bunker fuels from around the world.”

Alaska Marine Science Symposium Begins Jan. 16 in Anchorage

Updates on a number of research activities in progress on marine regions off Alaska and more will be presented at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage Jan. 16-20. The annual event, which began in 2002, has a number of federal, state and other marine fisheries sponsors, ranging from the North Pacific Research Board and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees.

The sessions, including keynote speeches, numerous workshops and poster sessions, are all open to the public at no charge. Exhibiting sponsors are being charged at cost.

A list of venues, the agenda, workshops and exhibit information is posted online at

Keynote speeches this year, all scheduled for Monday, Jan. 16, include Eddy Carmack on Arctic issues; Carin Ashjian and Jeff Napp on the Bering Sea and Aleutians; Jamal Moss on the Gulf of Alaska, and Randy Olson on education and outreach.

Carmack will present on the interconnected roles of the Arctic and Subarctic oceans in global change. Ashjian and Napp will present on understanding ecosystem processes for the Bering Sea and Moss will speak on the Gulf of Alaska project, an integrated ecosystem research program. Olson has chosen to explore story telling as a way for scientists to communicate more effectively. Olson said he will explore what the structure of a story is, why it is such a crucial aspect of communication, and how scientists can do better at it at all scales, from five seconds to five hours.

Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery Gets Preliminary GHL of 29,008 Tons

A final forecast won’t be announced until late February, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has put the preliminary guideline harvest level for the 2012 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery at 29,008 tons. Last year’s guideline harvest level for that fishery was 19,430 tons.

Winter test fisheries for this lucrative harvest will take place in January. The forecast and GHL will be finalized using average weight-at-age from sampling of the winter test fishery, state officials said.

This GHL is based on a 20 percent harvest rate of the forecast biomass of 145,042 tons of mature herring. The forecast indicates that the spawning stock will consist of 13 percent age 3, 24 percent age 4, 25 percent age 5, 14 percent age 6, 11 percent age 7, and 13 percent age 8 and older herring.

State biologists use an age-structure-analysis model to estimate abundance, survival rates and maturation rates needed to forecast the biomass of mature herring expected to return to Sitka Sound during the upcoming spawning season. The model uses a long time series of abundance and age composition data from department surveys conducted during and following the spring fishery.

Herring abundance is estimated using aerial surveys designed to map the length of shoreline receiving spawn, and dive surveys, which estimate the density of eggs and the average width of the spawn. In the spring of 2011, the department documented 78.3 nautical miles of herring spawn in the greater Sitka Sound area.

Last year the ASA model estimated 132,000 tons of herring spawned in the Sitka Sound area and the commercial sac roe herring harvest was 19,430 tons for a total return of 151,430 tons.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pacific Seafood Antitrust Lawsuit Still On Course

By Terry Dillman

A class action antitrust lawsuit filed in June 2010 against Clackamas, Oregon-based Pacific Seafood Group (PSG) is still tacking toward a requested court showdown, despite some legal course changes along the way.

Initially filed by Portland law firm Haglund Kelley Horngren Jones & Wilder LLP for Brookings-based fishermen Lloyd Whaley and Todd Whaley and as many as 3,000 other “similarly situated fishermen and fishing vessel owners,” the lawsuit alleges monopolization of the Dungeness crab, Oregon coldwater (pink) shrimp, groundfish, and whiting seafood markets along the West Coast by PSG and its owner Frank Dulcich. Prices paid to fishermen are the central issue. The complaint alleges that PSG uses its market share of 50 to 70 percent in each of those four critical fisheries and coordinates with other processors to drive down those prices, thus violating federal antitrust laws.

The original complaint also featured an allegation of conspiracy to restrain trade, which disappeared in the filing of a first amended complaint in August 2010. The plaintiffs’ lead attorney Michael Haglund said they re-filed after learning that Dulcich owns PSG outright and is not just a majority partner.

Antitrust laws say “you can’t conspire with yourself,” said Haglund, noting that they weren’t aware of the 57-company conglomerate’s full organization at the time of the initial filing, and that it’s common to re-file a case after such discoveries.

The complaint has since undergone two more iterations, and the latest re-filing in July 2011 added Newport-based pink shrimp fisherman Jeff Boardman, Brookings-based fisherman Brian Nolte and Dynamik Fisheries, Inc. and Miss Sarah LLC as plaintiffs.

The monopoly allegations remain, and the law firm’s website prominently features a section devoted to the lawsuit. It describes the actions taken so far, a copy of the complaint to download and peruse, and lists seven categories of alleged anticompetitive conduct:

• Price fixing – using “multiple tactics to set and enforce low prices to fishermen, including “retaliation against processors who dare to deviate from Pacific’s set prices.”

• Theft from fishermen by manipulating scales, misreporting actual weights, or “arbitrarily designating a portion of a delivered catch as an unusable ‘weighback’” and deducting it from the paid poundage, yet still processing and selling the “unusable” fish.

• Acquiring 18 West Coast seafood processing plants – some through “predatory tactics” that set up a vulnerable company for acquisition “at a bargain price.”

• Widespread use of “exclusive dealing and tying arrangements.”

• Restricting crab, shrimp and groundfish harvest outputs.

• “False representations” to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council that “have impacted” council decisions.

• “Miscellaneous dirty tricks” – among them, “illegally targeting” threatened fish stocks (criminally prosecuted by the state in 2001), and “fraudulently manipulating a delay” in the start of the 2005-2006 crab season.

The lawsuit remains on course toward a potential courtroom showdown, despite a setback at the end of February.

During the discovery process, Haglund said they found out that Pacific aimed at boosting its market share even more by purchasing Westport, Washington-based Ocean Gold, the largest whiting processor and owner of the single largest seafood processing plant on the West Coast.

Founded in 1991 by Washington fisherman Dennis Rydman, Ocean Gold now employs 700 people and processes more than 100 million pounds of fish annually.

In 2006, Ocean Gold and Pacific inked a 10-year deal that made Pacific Seafood “solely responsible” for setting “raw material costs” (fishermen’s prices), and obligated Ocean Gold to sell all fish it buys from fishermen to Pacific. The companies split the profits 50-50. Dulcich currently owns 32 percent of Ocean Gold, and was recently negotiating to buy it outright until Haglund took legal action to try to stop it with a preliminary injunction, asking the court to keep the two companies from communicating with each other about the prices they are paying fishermen, except as needed for accounting. It also asked to halt any communications “intended to direct fishing vessels to particular seafood processing plants.”

Pacific Seafood put the purchase on hold in December 2010, awaiting the outcome.

At the end of February, US District Court Judge Owen Panner rejected the request to keep PSG from communicating with Ocean Gold about how much to pay for whiting, and from which boats to buy the fish.

The judge also noted that Haglund failed to prove that Pacific has used its market share to suppress prices paid to fishermen.

“Plaintiffs have not shown at this stage that they are being harmed by defendants’ alleged illegal price-fixing,” Panner wrote. “On the other hand, the defendants have presented evidence that the proposed injunction would interfere with their business operations.”

Haglund, who won an $82 million judgment against Weyerhaeuser in 2007 following a seven-year legal fight that went to the US Supreme Court, remained undaunted, noting that the decision did not reflect on the merits of his case. He said the case against Weyerhaeuser started out much weaker than the case against Pacific Seafood.

Ocean Gold is also now a named defendant in the antitrust lawsuit.

‘Without Merit’
Craig Urness, PSG’s general counsel, has said the claims “are completely without merit,” and the lawsuit contains “gross misinterpretations.”

Launched in 1941 as a small, fresh seafood retail operation, PSG has since expanded to encompass 57 companies that together put PSG at the top of the seafood seller food chain, with $1 billion in annual global sales. The group’s holdings include Pacific Shrimp in Newport, added to the fold in 1996.

“We plan to aggressively defend against the allegations,” Urness noted. “Pacific Seafood has a long history on the Oregon coast. For more than 25 years, we’ve prided ourselves on providing value, service and jobs on the Oregon coast to our partners in the fishing and seafood industries. We will continue this commitment into the future.”

Attorneys for PSG and Ocean Gold say that most of the complaint field by Haglund focuses on actions that took place outside the statute of limitations, and that neither company has hurt either the fishermen or the industry. They say the companies open up new markets, put more fishermen to work, and allow those fishermen “to earn substantially more money” than they could without the companies’ influence and purchasing power.

But Haglund said the evidence already on the record indicates that Dulcich built his conglomerate in violation of federal antitrust laws, and has used the network of companies to illegally dictate prices, harming not just the fishermen, but also the coastal communities that rely on their incomes.

And his team is still immersed in the discovery process.

In fact, the website offers a questionnaire for commercial fishermen to use to describe “any predatory tactic directed at you or known by you” pertaining to PSG. “Although we spent many months investigating this case, we believe there is considerable additional evidence of anticompetitive behavior by Pacific Seafood Group which is not detailed in the complaint,” it states. “We want to hear from everyone who has evidence of anticompetitive conduct by Pacific Seafood Group.”

Any fishermen with a tale to tell can go to and fill out the questionnaire.

Permit Limits?
State Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach) introduced Senate Bill 668 that would limit the number of commercial fishing permits any individual or company could hold in any fishery to no more than three. Krieger said the bill derived from his frustration over Pacific’s ability to hinder competition in fish prices.

PSG attorney Urness said the bill unfairly targets a successful, family-owned Oregon company that has developed new markets for fishermen.

Pacific Seafood was just named as one of Oregon’s 10 most admired companies in the agriculture and forest products category for 2011 during the seventh annual recognition event held Dec. 7 in Portland. The company earned similar honors in 2007 and 2009.

The Portland Business Journal sponsors the program aimed at recognizing Oregon’s “leading businesses.”

But fishermen claim PSG leads the way in much less flattering and admired categories. Several of them testified in favor of Krieger’s bill during the March 14 hearing of the Senate Committee on General Government, Consumer, and Small Business Protection, and repeated many of the accusations made in the antitrust case.

“I am fortunate not to have any mortgage on my fish boat, but it still has become harder and harder to make a decent living in my fishery over the last five years,” Newport-based Jeff Boardman, skipper of the F/V Miss Yvonne, told the committee. Boardman has been an Oregon coast shrimper since 1967.
“Although the wholesale and retail prices for our shrimp have been rising since 2006, the ex vessel prices paid to fishermen for pink shrimp have been on the decline during this same period,” he added. “I strongly believe that all of the fault for this disconnect between wholesale prices and ex vessel prices lies with Pacific Seafood. With more than three permits, any large processor just has too much power to dictate price. I believe we have been receiving prices that are 10 to 15 cents below what we would be paid if the processor market was truly competitive.”

With 30 million pounds of shrimp landings during an average year, that price difference means a loss of $3 million to $4.5 million to fishing families and Oregon coastal communities.

Steve Bodnar, executive director of the Coos Bay Trawlers (which favors the bill), testified as a private citizen in relation to specific comments about Pacific Seafood. He said Urness called the president of the organization and “asked him to stop me from testifying.” As a result, Bodnar said he “was told not to say anything negative about Pacific Seafood” in his testimony.

“I cannot in good conscience testify in a way that keeps this committee in the dark,” he said.

Emily Dunn has fished on the West Coast for 26 years, the past eight out of Garibaldi with her husband, Edward, primarily for Dungeness crab. She told the committee that it had become “increasingly difficult to make a good living” during the past five years as operating costs rose and prices paid to crabbers “flat-lined,” averaging about $2 per pound. At the same time, she noted, wholesale prices rose substantially.

“None of this increase has been shared with fishermen, and I place all the blame for this at the door of Pacific Seafood,” she stated. “Competing processors are intimidated by Pacific and wait to see what price Pacific Seafood will set at the beginning of each season. With their market share and reputation, Pacific Seafood can veto the higher prices that would be set in a competitive market.”

Darus Peake, who owns and operates Garibaldi-based Tillamook Bay Boathouse, which processes crab, tuna, salmon and some groundfish and has eight employees. He is currently chairman of the Oregon Salmon Commission, and has served as a port commissioner in Garibaldi.

Peake participated in the 2010 crab price negotiations sponsored by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and said he “came away disgusted” over Pacific Seafood’s refusal to budge above $1.675 per pound, even though he and “a number of other processors” were willing to pay prices higher than the 2009 opening price of $1.75 per pound. PS representatives also insisted on delaying the season to Dec. 10 to set crab pots, and first deliveries in Dec. 12.

“Because of their market share and the practice of requiring complete consensus on the processor side in those negotiations, we ended up with no choice but to stick with the prices proposed by Pacific Seafood,” said Peake. “I see the financial stress encountered by many fishing families on Oregon’s north coast and I see the declining level of maintenance throughout the Oregon fleet. If competitive conditions do not improve, I fear that we will lose a significant share of our fleet, and it will gradually be taken over through acquisitions of fishing vessels and permits by Pacific Seafood.”

Unlike the PS business model, which he said aims to dominate and buy up fishermen, he has a vision “where free and fair competition results in more processors, more fresh as opposed to frozen product, and more fishing industry jobs in Oregon.”

Krieger’s bill is still stuck in the committee process.

Seeking Compensation
The lawsuit alleges that PSG uses vertically integrated acquisitions, multiple tactics to set and enforce ex-vessel prices, exclusive dealing and tying arrangements, restrictions on output, “theft of seafood commodities” from fishermen, “fraudulent representations” to public agencies, and “miscellaneous dirty tricks.” The lawsuit requests a trial by jury, and asks the court, among other things, to declare PSG’s conduct illegal, and award the fishermen and fishing vessel owners a class judgment of $131.5 million to $173.5 million for actual damages, and to triple those damages to between $394 million and $520 million “as a result of the antitrust violations.”

The attorneys squared off in front of Judge Panner in October, with PSG’s legal eagles trying to convince the judge that the lawsuit doesn’t merit class action status. As of this writing, Panner had yet to rule on motions from Ocean Gold and Pacific to dismiss the lawsuit, or determine whether or not it merits class action status.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin in February 2012.

Senate Hears Criticism of Genetically Engineered Salmon

Environmental risks of genetically engineered salmon were the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing this past week. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who has labeled the product “Frankenfish,” chaired the session of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced legislation in October to ban the interstate commerce of genetically engineered fish. Among those testifying with written and/or oral testimony were Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D- W. VA., Ron Stotish, president of AquaBounty Technologies; Illinois fisheries geneticist John Epifanio; fisheries author Paul Greenburg; and George Leonard, aquaculture program director for Ocean Conservancy.

Leonard told the subcommittee that genetically engineered salmon could potentially damage already-struggling wild salmon populations through competition for food and habitat, pathogen and disease transmission, disruption of reproduction and interbreeding. “If such impacts come to pass, they could have real-world and far-reaching impacts people, industries and the environment” Leonard said. “Congress should ensure that key questions are answered before GE salmon are approved for commercial production,” he said.
“It is clear to me that we need to operate under the assumption that these fish will escape, and that warrants a thorough examination of the harm that this could cause,” said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Epifanio said a robust and formal risk assessment is warranted. “We need to consider the scientific issues surrounding the risks of genetically engineered salmon and other fishes based on the appropriate and full range of scientific fields to shape the policy discussions,” he said.

Greenberg called Begich’s decision to hold the hearing an important one toward achieving a better understanding of the full suite of environmental risks posed by genetically modified salmon. The environmental risks posed by genetically engineered salmon specifically and GE fish in general are real, he said.

Congress should take legislative action to ensure that the full weight of environmental risks is thoroughly understood before we proceed, he said.

AquaBounty Technologies’ Ron Stotish noted the high demand for seafood in the US has resulted in the nation importing some 300,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon each year from a variety of foreign producing countries, while producing less than 17,000 metric tons from aquaculture. Stotish said the cultivation of Atlantic salmon would not likely impact the wild caught Alaska salmon fishery market. Stotish also said the company’s facilities are located in areas that are highly unfavorable to the survival, establishment and spread of AquAdvantage salmon, should there be an escape.

NOAA Still Looking for Answers in Deaths of Ringed Seals, Walruses

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are still trying to determine what is killing ringed seals and walruses in Northwest and Arctic Alaska.

Since mid-July, more than 60 dead and 75 diseased seals – mostly ringed seals – have been reported in Alaska, and reports continue to come in. Scientists with the US Fish and Wildlife Service also identified diseased and dead walruses at the annual mass haul-out-at Point Lay on the Arctic Slope. It is not known whether the unidentified disease can be transmitted to humans or other sea life.
Necropsies and laboratory tests to date have found skin lesions in most cases, as well as fluid in the lungs, white spots on the liver, and abnormal growths in the brain. Some seals and walruses have undersize lymph nodes, which may indicate compromised immune systems, according to NOAA.

Federal agencies and partners have been consulting with the working group in marine mammal unusual mortality events to consider if the seal and walrus deaths met the criteria for an unusual mortality event.

Last week, the working group recommended that NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service declare an unusual mortality event for the ringed seals. That decision triggers a focused, expert investigation into the cause. A decision is pending with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for a similar for the walruses.

NPFMC Advances BSAI Alternatives for Analysis

Bering Sea and Aleutian Island crab issues continue to move slowly forward through the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. At its December meeting the council advanced for analysis alternatives that would require persons acquiring quota shares to meet minimum requirements for active participation in the crab fisheries.

Under the proposed alternatives, active participation requirements could be satisfied by the quota shareholder either maintaining a minimum ownership interest in a vessel or a minimum participation as a crewmember.

Council members also asked staff to prepare a discussion paper examining the potential for cooperatives to develop provisions that would establish minimum crew compensation standards, maximum lease rates, maximum lease charges or deductions against crew compensation, and measures to promote quota share ownership by crew and active participants in those fisheries.

In related action, the council considered stakeholder comments concerning the performance of the binding arbitration system, which is used to settle price harvester/processor disputes for individual fishing quota landings that must be delivered to holders of individual processing quota. The council asked their chairman to appoint a work group to consider development of a process for the price formula for the golden king crab fishery, and letters of nomination are being accepted at the council office until Jan. 10.

The council also reviewed its pending action to modify community provisions, including rights of first refusal on processor quota shares. After testimony, the council made minor technical revisions to one alternative concerning the lapse of rights and added an action to require processor quota share holders to provide certain notices to right holders and NMFS to ensure the right holders and the right agency are informed concerning the status of rights and whether those rights have been triggered.

Halibut Catch Sharing Plan Has Unanimous Support From Federal Council

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is unanimous in its continued support of a halibut catch sharing plan to resolve long standing allocation and management issues between the commercial and charter halibut sectors. The council also recognized during its December meeting in Anchorage that there are deficiencies in the current analysis that it needs to address before implementation can take place.

During the December meeting the council provided clarifications to six main issues raised in public comment to the proposed rule. The council asked for additional analysis and revisions to the halibut catch sharing plan that more specifically address public comments outlined in the National Marine Fishery Service report on the catch-sharing plan.

The council intends to review the supplemental analysis during its April meeting, to determine what, if any, additional changes are needed in order for the catch sharing plan to meet council objectives. The council also has asked NMFS for a report by the April meeting as to whether the additions and revisions to the catch sharing plan will require a new proposed rule, so that the council can establish a timeline for implementing the catch sharing plan.

The council also asked staff for a discussion paper analyzing several items for potential use in future halibut management, including the use of Alaska Department of Fish and Game log books for official harvest reporting, and the use of a common pool purchase of quota shares by the charter sector.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Red King Crab Prices Rocket to New Heights

By Margaret Bauman

A fast-paced Bristol Bay red king crab season, with the quota slashed to 7.8 million pounds, bodes well for the commercial harvesters and processors in the short term, as wholesale buyers scramble for as much as they can purchase.

Where this will all lead in the marketplace is the unanswered question.

The fishery began on Oct. 15 and by Nov. 1, 82 percent of the total allowable harvest for individual fishing quota shares was landed, with just 1.2 million pounds of IFQ to go, said Heather Fitch, area management biologist for shellfish at Dutch Harbor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Of the total 7.8 million pounds, 7,050,600 pounds went to the IFQ permit holders, with another 783,400 pounds to community development quota entities, whose harvest pace is generally the same as that of the IFQ entities, Fitch said.

Sixty-two vessels were participating in the 2011-2012 crab harvest, down three from a year ago, she said.

“It was a weird season,” said Rob George, of the Las Vegas based Crab Broker, who was there at Dutch Harbor to watch vessels deliver at that port. “It kind of reminded me a little bit of the old derby style days.

“Most of the boats were on the crab. A couple of boats came in with their quota after three to four days. Fishermen were saying there are crab all over the place.”

George, who generally spends 30 to 40 days at Dutch Harbor while the king crab are coming in, said he arrived on Oct. 20, saw his first delivery on Oct. 21 and departed on Oct. 28 this year.

“The weather wasn’t bad,” he said. “All of our planes of fresh got out on time. It was less stressful because we shipped less fresh crab daily, because of the high prices.”

That’s $20 a pound delivered to buyers in Japan this year, and domestic consumers “will be paying north of $20 (a pound), depending on what they are buying,” he said.

One harvester said he was getting $9 a pound for crab delivered, compared to about $7.50 a pound a year ago, not counting the additional retro money once prices were established.

A year ago, with the total allowable catch set at 13.4 million pounds for the IFQ program and 1.5 million pounds for the CDQ groups, Japanese prices were $14 a pound to wholesalers, and first wholesale prices domestically were $14.50 to $15.25 a pound.

There is no cheap crab on the market right now and most consumers won’t be able to find true Alaska king crab in most stores, George said.

Russian king crab is starting to come over and since the Japanese bought the vast majority of the Russian small king crab, the big king crab is coming in the United States, at price just below Alaska king crab prices, he said. “As long as people keep buying it, they will keep selling it at those prices,” he said.

Also on the bright side, George said, many skippers and crews told him they had a lot of undersized crab in their pots that they returned promptly to the ocean, which should bode well for the 2012-2013 red king crab season.

George said some skippers were telling him the water temperature this year was back up to where it was five or six years ago, and so they went to where they found an abundance of crab back then, and sure enough, there they were.

Kodiak harvester Mark Israelson, the skipper aboard the Island Mist, which delivered 100,000 pounds of red king crab at King Cove, was one of those concerned about the survey that led to the slashed quota. “They (ADF&G) go to the same areas (every year) and do their survey. They tow in exactly the same areas every year. We move around in those areas differently than they do,” to find the crab, he said.

The abundance of all that crab left some harvesters puzzled over why the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had slashed the quota by 47 percent, but Fitch, as well as Jeff Regnart, the department’s director of commercial fisheries, said the department was following standard procedures of several kinds of data, including that collected by trawl surveys, to determine the allowable catch. “They think we are being too conservative, but we try to do the best job possible with the money we have,” Regnart said.

In-season data from the 2011-12 fishery will be used to determine next year’s quota.

While harvesters are making more money per pound this year, they are mindful that that the quota was markedly lower, and were not that happy with the high prices, George said.

“Typically when you see these prices increase, they pay for it down the road. It gets taken off the menus. It’s not good for the industry at these prices,” he said.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at

NOAA Legislation Would Protect US Fishermen From Pirates

Sen. Daniel Innoye, D-Hawaii, has introduced legislation in Congress to stop pirate fishing vessels from unloading their illegally caught seafood at ports in the United States. The administration bill, which implements an international agreement the United States helped negotiate, would benefit American fishermen, seafood buyers and consumers by keeping illegal seafood out of global trade. Co-sponsors of the legislation include Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The pirate fishing practices are also referred to as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Announcement of the new legislation came from NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who said illegal fishing undermines fishermen in the United States and other nations who fish sustainably and legally. These illegal practices also can result in devastating fish stocks and ocean ecosystems, Lubchenco said.

“As one of the top importers of seafood globally, the US is committed to combatting illegal fishing and ensuring a level playing field for our fishermen,” she said. “The international agreement and this bill will close the world’s ports to illegal fishing.”

The legislation is rooted in the first binding global agreement to focus on combatting these illegal fishing practices, the agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. NOAA officials said this international accord is recognized globally as a landmark agreement.

Pollock Earns Certification for Meeting Fishery Management Standards

An independent auditing firm, Global Trust, has certified a fourth Alaska commercial fishery as being in compliance with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s responsible fisheries management criteria.

The announcement of certification of the Alaska Pollock fishery on Dec. 9 comes on the heels of similar certifications for Alaska salmon, halibut and black cod (sablefish). The certification of Alaska crab remains in process.

The announcement came this past week from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which was directed by its board of directors to contract with Global Trust to verify that all five fisheries were in compliance with the UN organization’s code of sustainable management practices.

The certification lasts for five years and entails annual surveillance assessments.

Randy Rice, ASMI”s technical program director, based in Seattle, said ASMI’s board wanted to offer the seafood industry in Alaska alternatives to eco-label certification.

“We are not in the logo selling business,” Rice said. “This is a service to verify that Alaska fishery management practices adhere to international standards of fishery management. This is a cost effective alternative using the FAO code of conduct.

How certification of the Pollock fishery will affect the marketability of Alaska Pollock remains to be determined, he said.

The certification covers the fishery management of Alaska Pollock commercial fishery employing pelagic trawl gear within 200 miles of Alaska shores under federal and state management.

A Global Trust certification committee, composed of fishery, certification and accreditation experts performed a qualitative review of the formal processes, assessment reports and recommendations provided by the fishery assessment team and peer reviewers appointed to assess the Pollock fishery. The certification committee unanimously agreed with the assessment team’s findings that the Alaska Pollock commercial fishery is responsibly managed by effective management organizations, using robust fishery management plans and practices based on objective science and information, ASMI officials said.

Groundfish Quotas Set by North Pacific Fishery Management Council

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, meeting in Anchorage, has set the 2012 quotas for groundfish in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska. All quotas are still subject to approval by US Commerce Secretary John Bryson. After much discussion, the federal panel set the Eastern Bering Sea Pollock quota at 1,200,000 metric tons, down 4.2 percent from a year ago. The Pacific cod quota was set at 261,000 metric tons, up 14.5 percent. Other quotas include yellowfin sole, 202,000 metric tons, up 3.1 percent; Atka mackerel, 50,763 metric tons, down 4.4 percent; Pacific Ocean perch, 24,700 metric tons, unchanged; and black cod (sablefish), 4,280 metric tons, down 9.9 percent.

In the Gulf of Alaska, the NPFMC set the total allowable catch at 116,444 metric tons for Pollock, up 21 percent. For Pacific cod, the quota was raised 0.9 percent to 65,700 metric tons. The quota for Pacific Ocean perch was dropped 0.5 percent to 16,918 metric tons, while the quota for black cod (sablefish) was raised 14.8 percent to 12,960 metric tons.

Alaska Seafood Promotions Fan Out Over Seattle, Anchorage and Juneau

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is moving forward with plans for the Great Alaska Seafood Cook Off, to be held May 14 in Anchorage. Also on ASMI’s agenda in December was a fish taco photo shoot in Seattle, using recipes provided by the Alaska Seafood Chef Alliance and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Fenigar of Bravo’s Top Chef, the Food Network’s Two Hot Tamales, and the owners of Border Grill restaurants. ASMI officals said the recipes feature Alaska black cod, cod, halibut, salmon, crab and Pollock. The images and recipes produced at Seattle’s Iridio Studios will be used to promote Alaska fish tacos during Leten and Cinco deMayo holiday promotions. ASMI’s food service division also shot 60 new photos featuring all five species of Alaska salmon, featuring raw portions, pan-seared, grilled and teamed/poaches cooking methods.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation meanwhile is gearing up for the 18th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood, with events in Seattle, Anchorage and Juneau. In Seattle on Feb. 3, entries in the 2012 competition for retail, food service and smoked products will be sampled and judged, and participants in the gala soiree will be asked to vote for their favorite products too. Only the people’s choice awards will be revealed in Seattle. Then on Feb. 11 in Anchorage, AFDF will holds another gala soiree, where participants again will choose the people’s choice winners in retail, food service and smoked seafood categories, and the judges’ decisions for first, second and third place in all categories will be announced. Winners of first place in all three categories, plus the people’s choice winners, will win airfare and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in late March. AFDF will then conduct a third venue in Juneau on March 8, where participants again will get to vote for their people’s choice for the best entries.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Officials Delay Commercial Dungeness Crab Harvest

By Terry Dillman

December 2011

The commercial Dungeness crab season from Point Arena, Calif., to the Washington-Canada border is on hold until at least Dec. 15, due to recalcitrant crabs who failed their first two meat quality tests.

Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) announced the delay in a Nov. 10 press release.

Commercial crab harvest in Oregon’s bays and estuaries closed on Dec. 1, but will reopen as soon as the commercial ocean fishery sets sail. Recreational ocean crabbing is also delayed, but remains open in the bays and estuaries.

Kelly Corbett from the ODFW Marine Resources Program located at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport said fishery managers from Washington, Oregon and California decided to delay the opening “to allow crab quality to improve.” Crabs in most test areas failed to meet the minimum preseason test criteria of at least 25 percent meat content (23 percent north of Cascade Head, Oregon) during early November testing. The next round of testing was expected in late November or early December.

What effect the delay might have on harvest numbers is anybody’s guess.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever guessed right,” said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission (ODCC) when asked to predict potential landings. “(The crabs) are on their own schedule. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Furman said pushing back the start date should, however, ease some of the tension normally associated with price negotiations between fishermen and processors. Those negotiations, involving representatives from port crab marketing associations, seafood processing companies and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), were scheduled to start Nov. 16.

But Furman said everyone agreed that “it makes no sense to rush” the negotiations. “We decided it’s probably best to delay them to keep them in sync with the delayed opening,” he noted.

It also gives them a chance to glean more information, first providing what Furman deemed “a great opportunity” to spend at least an entire month observing what transpires from the central California Dungeness season, which opened Nov. 15, and to find out what the next round of meat quality tests reveals before heading to the negotiation table.

Under normal circumstances, the central California Dungeness fishery opens just a fortnight prior to the Oregon coast season. While that gives some indication of how things might go for the fleet from Oregon, Washington and northern California, the extra two weeks this year offers a chance to watch the effects in the marketplace and to get some initial answers to questions that are usually still open-ended when dickering about initial prices for Oregon crabbers, especially so close to the Thanksgiving holiday.

With the additional market and meat quality information in hand, Furman said, “There shouldn’t be much more to talk about except price. Everybody is looking forward to a good year.”

Crabbers say they would love a repeat of last season or better, but being pragmatic, they say they also know anything could happen, considering the vagaries of the market, weather and other factors, including crab quality.

Stellar Results
The season also started late last year as representatives from five port crab marketing associations and seven seafood processing companies negotiated, emerging from the bargaining process with an opening price of $1.65 per pound, pending a request from processors for additional pre-season testing by ODFW to determine crab meat quality. Processors also wanted crabbers to wait until Dec. 12, rather than venture out on traditional Dec. 1 opening date, and if they did, the negotiated price edged up to $1.675, which was still well below the 2009-2010 opening price of $1.75 per pound.

As it turned out, crabbers had a banner year value-wise as they caught fewer crabs than the previous season, but hauled in more money.

The season ended Aug. 14 with the fourth largest catch on record, as the 325-boat Oregon fleet landed 21.2 million pounds and exceeded 20 million pounds for the fifth time in the past 10 seasons.

Newport’s fleet helped the city live up to its designation as “The Dungeness Crab Capital of the World” by delivering 7.5 million pounds of crabs to the port’s seafood processors. Charleston’s fleet hauled in 5.3 million pounds, followed by Astoria with landings of 4.3 million pounds. While those were excellent numbers – well above the average annual harvest of about 10 million to 12 million pounds during the past three decades – numbers nearer and dearer to the crabbers’ hearts and wallets made the season a more resounding success.

“The real story is the landed value of this season’s catch,” said Furman when announcing the results in September. “Strong demand in the marketplace pushed boat prices up, so although fishermen caught fewer crabs, they made more money.”

The to-the-boat harvest value reached almost $49 million, which Furman said was the second most valuable Oregon crab season in history. Associated processing activity upped the economic impact for Oregon’s coastal communities from Astoria to Brookings to more than $100 million.

It fell short of the $52.9 million commercial crabbers gleaned from the 2004-2005 season, but that amount derived from a record-setting harvest of 33.6 million pounds. The 2009 landings reached 23.1 million pounds (Newport again led the way with 6.8 million pounds, edging out Charleston’s 6.7 million and outdistancing Astoria’s take of 4.6 million), the third largest ever, but with a lower to-the-boat harvest value of $44.6 million, and overall economic impact of $90 million.

Furman said crabbers are well aware of the cyclical nature of the Dungeness crab population, and they can expect drop-offs in landings after a boom. Harvests reached record levels from 2003 to 2006, peaking with the 2004 haul, followed by landings of 27.5 million worth $44.6 million in 2005, before dropping to 15.1 million pounds valued at $32.9 million in 2006. In 2007, crabbers hauled 12.3 million pounds of Dungies worth $29.3 million into Oregon ports, and the 2008 effort netted about 13 million pounds, before the 2009 rebound.

Those natural boom-and-bust cycles, crabbers note, puts them “at the mercy of” the marketplace, and Furman has said that successive high yield years can flood the market, pinching prices and leading to holdover inventories.

Fishery leaders have turned their attention to marketing efforts to help offset those drawbacks.

To Market, To Market
ODCC represents 433 limited entry crab permit holders, who fish primarily within 10 miles of Oregon’s coast. Those who go out are all vying for a piece of that market.

Oregon leads the way in Dungeness crab production, with harvested crabs sold live, whole fresh or frozen, or as picked meat, legs and sections. Products are shipped around the world, although the United States remains the main market.

Analysts say strong marketing and promotion efforts have heightened the image of Dungeness crab, creating demand that is transforming it from primarily a regional favorite to a more nationwide appeal in restaurants and other seafood outlets, including supermarket chains.

An industry marketing partnership with ODA is focused on promoting Dungeness crab in as many key markets as possible, including internationally. ODA officials, ODCC, fishermen and processors have collaborated to successfully introduce Dungies to many markets, including Japan and Korea.

ODA also plays a pivotal role by supervising negotiations for the season-opening crab price, which is vital to the crabbers’ livelihoods. Even with a set opening price, crabbers remain at the mercy of the markets, and the flow of crabs from pots to boats to docks to markets still hinges on bringing in most of the annual catch during the first two months, providing a surge that benefits processors, who depend on volume to meet holiday market demand.

They are working to change that, Furman said, and part of the effort involved obtaining certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a designation the fishery earned in 2010 – one of only three crab fisheries worldwide and the only one of the West Coast Dungeness crab fisheries (Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, British Columbia) to do so – based on good management practices, sustainable harvest methods and neutral environmental impacts. MSC is the world’s leading independent certification program for sustainable fisheries, with science-based environmental standards and methodology, and a certification process that focuses on three principles: health of the fishery stock, fishery management, and the effects of the fishery on the overall ecosystem. The evaluation uses a number of performance measures and individual guidelines to determine certification.

“This sets the Oregon Dungeness brand apart from all other Dungeness in the marketplace,” Furman noted at the time. “This simply substantiates what we and a lot of other people have known all along – this is a well-managed, sustainably-harvested, environmentally-neutral fishery that just happens to also produce a wonderful gourmet product.”

Along those lines, they are following in the wake of two other unique Oregon fisheries. Oregon’s pink shrimp fishery received its initial MSC certification in 2007 and is currently immersing itself in the recertification process, and virtually all Oregon albacore tuna is MSC-certified.

“Oregon has been harvesting Dungeness crab for over a century,” Furman noted. “Landings this past decade have been off the charts, and nature continues to provide us with healthy stocks. But to attain MSC certification, we made some modifications and conducted additional scientific research to prove our sustainability.”

The next step, he noted, is creating consumer awareness and demand for the brand.

Furman believes the MSC certification could provide a definite economic boost for what is already the state’s most valuable fishery, due to a growing trend in the retail, food service, and restaurant trade to offer products from sustainable fisheries certified by an independent entity using a proven scientific process. He sees it as a big step in the right direction, as more consumers demand seafood from fisheries that can prove their harvest and management practices meet high standards for sustainability.

In fact, some wholesalers and retailers are committing to – sometime in the not-too-distant future - selling only certified seafood, so having the MSC blue label on Dungeness crab should translate into future successful marketing venues.

For now, crabbers say they are simply focused on the pending new season, and looking forward to getting gear in the water whenever they get the green light.

Grain Free Salmon Treats Now Include Fruits and Veggies

Gourmet pet food entrepreneur Brett Gibson, who recognized 13 years ago the marketing potential of thousands of pounds of salmon scraps, has added grain-free salmon treats to his canine offerings, complete with fruits and vegetables.

Offerings include Yummy Chummies salmon with cranberries and blueberries, salmon with sweet potato, salmon with carrots, kelp and spinach and the very popular Yummy Chummies Gold, complete with a dash of rosemary extract.

“I think it (grain-free) will be a hot item,” said Gibson, whose Anchorage firm also produces a supply of salmon and cod protein for pet food manufacturers, and salmon oil products. November, December and January are the highest demand period for the gourmet treats.

The fact that they are made in the USA is also a huge selling point, he said.
Yummy Chummies Original soft and chewy salmon treats, meanwhile, continue to grow in popularity, offering nutritious wild Alaska salmon and its omega-3 oils for canines, and an outlet for fish processors who need to dispose of the rest of the fish after filleting or roe stripping.

The pet treats are available nationwide, from retail giants like Costco and Wal-Mart to online companies who tell potential customers “A million dogs can’t be wrong. Yummy Chummies are the premiere gourmet dog treat.”

While market demand keeps on growing, Gibson said he’s continuing to fight the higher cost of doing business in Alaska, from his calculations nearly twice the cost he would face if his business were based in the Pacific Northwest.

While Arctic Paws keeps a good inventory of product ingredients on hand, an unexpected order recently forced the company to pay $3,600 to have two ingredients trucked north over the Alaska Highway, four times the cost of bringing it up on a barge.

Gibson said he would like to see more effort on the state’s part to reduce the cost of manufacturing in Alaska, to back up their claims that they want to see more value added manufacturing, with creative ways to reduce the cost of shipping to Alaska ingredients needed to manufacture his products and the cost of shipping out the finished products too.

Senators Want Answers on New Salmon Virus Reports

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washingotn, are voicing concern over new reports that Canada kept secret decade-old findings that a virus was detected in wild Pacific salmon.

“These troubling reports reinforce the need for a coordinated, multi-national strategy to control the spread of this virus threat,” Cantwell said. “American and Canadian scientists need to have access to all relevant research on this deadly virus. We can’t afford to leave the Pacific Northwest’s fishery jobs at risk.”

Murkowski meanwhile asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration what details, if any, were known by the U.S. about earlier detection of the infectious salmon anemia virus, which is not known to be harmful to humans, but has devastated fish stocks in South America and Europe.

“Call it Salmongate,” said the Los Angeles Times, writing about reports that Canadian authorities allegedly knew about the virus a decade ago.

The Canadian Press is also reporting on an unpublished paper by scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island. The paper concluded that an asymptomatic form of ISA was occurring in some wild salmon stocks in the North Pacific as far back as 2002.

The report of earlier detection of ISA surfaced on the blog site in late November.

Canadian fisheries officials issued a statement weeks ago saying reports of ISA detected in British Columbia salmon had not been verified by federal officials through established processes. A state of Alaska fisheries pathologist, Ted Meyers, said he was in daily contact with his Canadian counterparts and once a second round of tests was complete, the state would take appropriate action. Meyers cautioned that state officials did not want to overreact before they had more definitive information from the Canadian authorities.

Canadian Report Ranks Eco-Labels on Seafood Products

A University of Victoria report released today (Dec. 7) ranks eco-labels intended to distinguish seafood produced with less damage to the environment. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, this is the first study to evaluate how eco-labels for farmed marine fish compare to unlabeled options for the marketplace.

“How Green is Your Eco-label?” is designed to help seafood buyers sort through competing sustainability claims and better identify those labels that result in farming methods with less damage to the ocean.

The report concludes that many eco-labels are not much better than conventional farmed seafood options when it comes to protecting the ocean environment.

“Scale is a big challenge for eco-labels,” the report said. “For the most part, eco-labels are awarded based on an individual farm’s environmental footprint.”

John Volpe, a marine ecologist at the University of Victoria and lead author of the report, said research shows that “most eco-labels for farmed marine fish offer no more than a 10 percent improvement over the status quo.

“With the exception of a few outstanding examples, one-third of the eco-labels evaluated for these fish utilize standards at the same level or below what we consider to be conventional or average practice in the industry.”

The authors used 10 environmental factors to assess the eco-labels, including antibiotic use, the ecological effect of farmed fish that escape from pens, sustainability of the fish that serve as feed, parasiticide used, and industrial energy needed in aquaculture production.

According to Chris Mann, director of Pew’s aquaculture standards project, the eco-labels can help fish farmers produce and consumers select environmentally preferable seafood, but only if the labels are based on meaningful standards that are enforced.

Man said that seafood buyers at the retail or wholesale level should demand that evidence of sustainability be demonstrates, no merely asserted.

The report concludes that government policies and regulations, as well as effective eco-labels, are necessary to limit the environmental impacts of production.

Funds Sought for Transition of Observer Program in Alaska

Alaska’s congressional delegation is asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide $3.8 million in start up funds for the North Pacific Fishery management Council’s restructured groundfish observer program.

The delegation sent a letter to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco this past week, noting that the restructured program will be funded by the industry, but that it requires start up funds.

Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said that lacking federal funding in the first year, fishermen would have to pay for coverage under the existing program while being assessed a fee to support future observer coverage under the new program. It would also delay implementation of the new program for at least a year and prolong expected improvements in catch and bycatch estimates and annual catch limit management, they said.

The delegation noted that NOAA has made commitments to fund observers in other regions while the transition to catch share programs. They said they are concerned that funding observers in these other regions might jeopardize NOAA’s ability to provide start-up funds for the restructured North Pacific groundfish observer program, while imposing an unwarranted burden on fishermen in Alaska’s small boats and 60-125 foot vessel fleets.

FN Online Advertising