Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kwik’Pak Looks to its Youth to Fill Workforce

By Margaret Bauman

On the Lower Yukon River, where wild salmon have for centuries been key to subsistence survival, teen-agers are learning how this nutritious fish can lead them into myriad employment opportunities and help grow the regional economy.

The youth employment program, in which 141 students earned wages totaling $233,000 during the 2011 salmon run, is the brainchild of Kwik-Pak Fisheries, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association.

YDFDA is one of six community development quota associations formed 20 years ago to boost the economy and quality of life in 65 communities on the Bering Sea Coast, by involving them in the lucrative Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish, halibut and crab fisheries.

“It has worked fabulously for us,” said Jack Schultheis, Kwik’Pak’s fisheries manager, with one eye to the greying of the fleet, and the other to providing skilled employment to the next generation. “We’re trying to get the younger people more involved in the fishing business, bringing young kids into the business so they can learn what it is all about from the ground up.

“We want to demonstrate to them how important this industry is to the Lower Yukon.”

“We think, we hope this will do it,” he said.

“The whole structure of the fishery is family-oriented,” he said. “They fish with their families and then they come off of the boat and work for us. It’s getting young people involved in the main business that’s out there. It’s the only non-government economy.”

“The benefit for us is that these kids are really good, very reliable workers,” he said. “They take their jobs very seriously. The money means a lot to them, so they are really reliable workers. They are not trouble-makers.”

The students, who start at $10 an hour, comprise about one-third of the workforce at Kwik-Pak’s fish processing plant at Emmonak. During the fishing season, they rotate through jobs every two weeks, to find out where their career interests lie.

Students aged 14-15 years old learn the skills of being administrative assistants, receptionists, custodians, break room store workers, and public relations, sales and marketing skills. The 16 and 17 year olds work as packing room, boxing room and roe house workers.

The program ends each year two weeks before school starts, but quite a few of them come back and work after school. “We really miss them when school starts, Schultheis said. “It gives you a warm feeling that you have a bunch of young people with ambition, who want to work. We’re hoping these kids get more involved in the economics, the business side of it.”

Other students are employed in collecting scientific data about the salmon at the plant for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and at buying stations at Mountain Village, Kotlik and Nunam Iqua.
The whole idea behind the youth training/employment program is to have skilled employees to come back and work for the villages, said Judy Murdock, operations assistant manager for Kwik’Pak. “We had a lot of eager people. We wanted to get them on the job, to get them trained,” she said.

“And we’re not just an employer said Marilyn Charles, employment and training services coordinator. “I work with the school counselor (at Emmonak) to keep tabs on the students. We make sure they are going well in school.

“For people who don’t have consistency in their lives, this gives them a path, a guideline of some sort,” she said. “They see Kwik’Pak coming (during the fishing season) every year and they see they are building a relationship with Kwik’Pak.”

Kwik’Pak actually began employing regional youth in commercial fisheries back in 2001.

By 2010, 105 youths were putting in a total of more than 14,500 hours combined.

Last year the program employed 141 students and this coming summer, Kwik’Pak hopes to employ even more.
Over the years these youth have also participated in other projects led by Kwik’Pak Fisheries, from painting churches and the women’s shelter in Emmonak and Alakanuk to building the fishermen’s store at Kwik’Pak.

They have also become involved in support of suicide prevention efforts, attending conferences led by regional elders and several community entities.

The youth employment program, says Kwik’Pak management, gives the communities a great sense of excitement of what the future holds for the region.

Kwik’Pak also is looking constantly to broaden the perspective of these teen-agers into the vast worldwide competition and potential of commercial fisheries.

In March, the CDQ group took two of its 18-year-old students to the International Boston Seafood Show to work at Kwik’Pak’s booth.

“They were just overwhelmed with the city of Boston itself, and they got a good impression of the competition, how huge in general the seafood industry is,” Schultheis said. “They met customers and talked to them. We had them work in the booth, talked to customers. One wants to go to college and go into marine biology. The other wants to go into fisheries operations. We think it is a really good program.”

In the future, Kwik’Pak is also looking at possibilities of bringing some of the students into Anchorage during winter months, for technical training, college courses and office training. “We are trying to do this so those kids go back to the villages and have jobs there,” he said.

A state Labor Department grant for $150,000 has helped fund wages, training, supplies and administrative services for the youth employment program, and a large career fair is planned for June.
Still, more funds are needed to help the program grow, Schultheis said.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at

Alaska’s Wild Salmon Harvest Climbs to 50 Million Fish

Alaska’s wild salmon harvest rose by more than 10 million fish from July 13 through July 20, to reach the 50 million fish mark, including nearly 31 million sockeye salmon. The bulk of the red salmon catch was harvested in the Bristol Bay watershed, including a cumulative total of more than 10 million reds in the Naknek-Kvichak district, now quiet as harvesters depart for other fisheries.

The Copper River harvest now stands at 1.8 million salmon, a small increase over the previous week, and includes some 1,783,000 reds, plus some 29,000 chum and 12,000 kings. While the fresh Copper River reds are now long gone, Copper River Seafoods, one of several processors of those reds, has joined other marketers of Alaska’s wild salmon online, with gift packages of smoked sockeye salmon fillets on, in addition to its own website,

Cook Inlet’s wild salmon harvest rose from 460,000 fish to 1.4 million over the same week ended July 20, with the sockeye salmon harvest alone jumping from 433,000 to 1.3 million reds, but the commercial East Side setnet fleet was basically shut down by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in an effort to protect king salmon swimming up that side of Cook Inlet.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has already asked for a federal disaster declaration related to Yukon and Kuskokwim Chinook salmon stocks, and noted in that request there is a similar trend on Cook Inlet stocks. Parnell said in the fall, when the season’s fishery return data is in, he intends to send a follow-up letter to federal authorities to support the disaster declaration request.
Parnell said he has also called for a state Department of Fish and Game comprehensive fisheries research plan. Parnell said he has already requested millions of federal dollars for Chinook salmon research but this was above and beyond that earlier request.
On the Lower Yukon River, a strong run of fall Yukon chums boosted the cumulative harvest from 176,000 to 285,000 fish, but that didn’t make up for the lost harvest during the summer run, when commercial fishermen had to wait to begin fishing until the required number of kings had escaped upstream, heading toward the Canadian border.
In Southeast Alaska, the cumulative catch doubled to 5.6 million salmon, including 4.3 million chum, 595,000 pink, 318,000 red, 232,000 silvers and 132,000 kings.
On the Alaska Peninsula the harvest edged up slightly to 3.3 million fish, including 2.5 million sockeyes, while at Kodiak the cumulative harvest rose from 1.6 million to 2.2 million salmon, including 1.4 million sockeyes.

Salmon for School Lunches Project Begins Taste Tests

Salmon patties, salmon patties with sauce and sweet and sour salmon balls with brown rice will be rated by children visiting the Tanana Valley Fair in Fairbanks in early August, to help researchers determine future rural school lunch plans.

The goal of researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is to provide healthier lunches with wild Alaska salmon and then measure the health impacts on the kids themselves. Recipes for the taste testing were created by the Cooperative Extension Service in Fairbanks, in collaboration with the Alaska Farm to School Program, and will include a taste test between local and imported vegetables as well.

Andrea Bersamin, the research project’s principal investigator, is a nutrition professor at UAF.

The goal, she said, “is to find a way for more Alaska commercial fish to stay in the state while providing an excellent source of local food for Alaska’s children. Beyond the nutritional values, the project includes an economic feasibility study, curriculum and program development. Some of the grant money will be used to purchase fish for the program from area fishermen and fish processors, once local preferences for how the fish should be prepared are established, so the program could have the added bonus of boosting local economies.

The taste tests began earlier this summer at the Center for Alaska Native Health Research at UAF. The center is part of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, which funded the research through a $1.1 million federal Department of Agriculture grant.

Protesters Want Shell Oil to Meet Stringent Requirements for Offshore Drilling

Concerns about potential adverse impacts of offshore drilling of exploratory wells has conservation groups urging federal authorities to say no to a waiver for Shell Oil on air pollution limits required to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

The small group of protesters assembled at the federal building in Anchorage where the Environmental Protection Agency has offices objected July 23 to Shell getting major changes in Clean Air Act requirements. Shell is asking for the EPA to completely do away with its limit on ammonia emissions, to triple limits on nitrogen oxide and to alter its limit for particulate matter, they said.

Shell officials have said that even though they have spent millions of dollars retrofitting one vessel that is cannot meet some emission standards for the permit, so Shell wants the EPA to be allowed to drill this summer while seeking a revised permit.

Colin O’Brien, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, was among those objecting to Shell being allowed to proceed this summer.

“Shell has admitted that it will violate the permit, that it intends to violate the law this summer unless it is given a special waiver, and we think that any company seeking to operate in the Arctic should be held to the letter of the law,” he said.

Commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen have for years voiced concerns about possible adverse impacts to fisheries habitat from offshore exploration drilling.

Proposal to Phase Out Bottom Trawling in Northeast Atlantic Draws Mixed Reactions

A proposal from the European Commission to phase out bottom trawling and bottom gillnetting for deep sea fishing fleets in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean is drawing mixed reactions among fisheries interests in Alaska.

Word of the European Commission’s proposal came from the Pew Environment Group, which praised Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, for “the bold proposal to finally put an end to these unsustainable and destructive deep sea fishing methods.

“Marine scientists have roundly concluded that deep-sea bottom trawling is the most direct and widespread threat to fragile deep-sea ecosystems,” Pew said in its written statement. “If the commission proposal is adopted, it would transform the EU into a global defender of deep-sea marine life by protecting vulnerable deep-sea species and ecosystems from the harmful impacts of destructive bottom fishing.”

“Globally, bottom trawl fisheries are considered high impact,” said Dorothy Childers, of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “Although Alaska fisheries are managed more rigorously to prevent overfishing, account for bycatch and protect certain habitat features, there are areas in our waters still exposed to bottom trawling that are ecologically sensitive and important to community-based small-scale fisheries.”

John Gauvin, a spokesperson for the Groundfish Forum, and Jim Gilmore of the At-sea Processors Association, said, however, that the announcement was not relevant to Alaska.

Gauvin said Alaska’s trawl, and other fisheries in federal waters also, are managed to prevent overfishing and effects on habitats have been studied and protections put in place. These include closed areas to protect coral concentrations and gear modifications, which have reduced bottom contact from flatfish trawls by 90 percent, he said. The European Union proposal is targeted at banning development of new deep-sea fisheries, fisheries that have no management in place, he said.

Gilmore said he found nothing in the announcement relevant to Alaska, particularly the Pollock fishery, which is conducted using mid-water trawl nets. Gilmore added that judging from the announcement, such a rule would affect less than 1 percent of the EU’s annual landings and apply largely to previously unregulated fisheries.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Forecast is for Strong Summer Chum Harvest on Lower Yukon

By Margaret Bauman

A dreary Chinook forecast aside, fishermen on the Lower Yukon River are anticipating a robust run of oil-rich summer chum salmon to fill market orders both domestically and in Europe.

“We have good markets,” said Jack Schultheis, sales manager for Kwik’Pak, at Emmonak, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association. The big question was how well buyers in England would respond to change, what with the state of Alaska embracing Global Trust over the Marine Stewardship Council to conduct third party certification of Alaska salmon fisheries.

Schultheis said in an interview June 4 that he expected to have 500 commercial fishing permit holders from the Lower Yukon River beginning to deliver their harvest once the fishery opened in late June.

That harvest, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is projected at a potential 500,000 to one million salmon. The fall chum surplus potentially available for commercial harvest is anticipated at 500,000 to 700,000 fish. Schultheis said he anticipates prices to fishermen will be about the same as those paid in 2011, 75 cents a pound for summer chum and one dollar a pound for fall chum.

No directed harvest of king salmon was anticipated.

Alaska’s wild salmon certification through the Marine Stewardship Council ends in October, and the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation has selected Global Trust to do its third party certification after that. AFDF made that decision in January after nine processors, including Kwik’Pak decided to pull the stopper on funds for third party certification through MSC, verifying that theirs is a sustainable fishery that adheres to best practices.

Alaska processors have expressed much concern over the past few years over the need to distinguish Alaska’s wild seafood from other wild seafood certified by MSC, to maintain the Alaska brand from a state where sustainability of seafood is mandated in the state constitution.

In April, the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association in Seattle, which represents many fishing vessel owners operating on the West Coast and in Alaska, opted to be the new MSC client for certification of Alaska’s salmon fisheries.

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell has defended the state’s decision to offer sustainable salmon certification through Ireland-based Global Trust, saying there was great concern over one party seeking control of the certification process. Campbell did not mention either MSC or Global Trust in her comments made during the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Belgium.

Kwik’Pak has worked hard to establish good markets both domestically and in Japan, as well as Europe, including the United Kingdom.

The majority of its headed and gutted fish are sold domestically and in Japan, while a lot of chum fillets are told in Europe and US markets. In the UK, the filets go to grocery stores, and the company Kwik’Pak works with has done a tremendous job supporting Alaska salmon, Schultheis said.

“They have Alaska salmon in the three largest groceries in the UK and they have really marketed and pushed the fish really hard in those grocery stores. The volume of product, fresh frozen product, has increased a couple hundred percent over five years,” he said. “They market this fish, got shelf space for it.”

The task before Kwik’Pak now is convincing these UK buyers that third party certification by Global Trust, which has in fact worked to certify fisheries for MSC, provides the same level of certification as MSC.

Eco-labels are very strong in the UK, on fish, eggs and meat, Schultheis said.

Years back, when sustainability became a big issue, the large grocery chains of the UK poured millions of dollars into promoting the MSC policy. Now Kwik’Pak is having individual meetings with its UK buyers to explain that the seafood standards that must be met for certification by Global Trust are equal to those of MSC.

“If the state (of Alaska) says this is the policy, I’m going to abide by that,” he said.

“I consider it to be a state policy that the state has decided to drop out of the MSC program. Regardless of what I personally think, sustainability is the state policy and I am supporting the state in that decision,” he said. Margaret Bauman can be reached at

Bristol Bay Harvest Nears 20 Million Salmon

What a difference a week makes.

From July 6 to July 13, Alaska’s wild salmon commercial harvest jumped from 22,249,000 to 38,937,000 fish, with the catch of sockeyes alone edging toward 27.5 million fish, and climbing.

In Bristol Bay, where the forecast was for a potential 2012 harvest of 21.76 million sockeye, the catch reached 19.4 million fish, including 18,979,000 reds, 380,000 chum and 14,000 kings.

Those still on the grounds July 16 said they were still getting a substantial number of sockeyes to deliver to the processors’ tenders, and the overall harvest could still top 20 million sockeyes.

Through July 13, the date the state issued its last Bristol Bay daily run summary for the season, the total sockeye run in the bay reached 26.9 million fish, compared with a forecast of 32.23 million fish, and the harvest reached 19.2 million reds, compared to the preseason forecast of 21.74 million reds.

On the Lower Yukon River, the harvest had reached 176,000 chum salmon by July 13.

“Once we got fishing, there were plenty of fish,” said Kwik’Pak’s Jack Schultheis. “But basically a million fish went by that were harvestable and that hurt. That’s what really took it out of us. If we could have fished on those chums, everything would be fine on economics. It was not being able to fish on those chums because of the low king returns,” he said. “Those one million fish that went by represent about $8 million to the economy of the Lower Yukon.”

“We basically put in $1 million instead of $8 million.”

Schultheis said he is hopeful that they can make up for the fish made unavailable during the summer run with the fall run of chum salmon, which began July 16.

In Prince William Sound, the Copper River catch rose slightly to 1,787,000 fish, including 1,746,000 reds, 28,000 chum and 11,000 king salmon. Counting other districts, Prince William Sound’s overall harvest stood at nearly 10 million salmon, including 3.3 million reds, 2.2 million chum, 4.4 million pink and 12,000 kings.

The harvest on the Alaska Peninsula, mainly the South Peninsula, rose to 3,034,000 salmon of all species, including some 2.296,000 sockeye, 452.000 chum, 275,000 pink and 9,000 kings.

At Kodiak the harvest rose to 1.5 million salmon, with the overall catch at 1,046 000 reds, 341,000 chum, 175,000 pink and 5,000 kings.

In Southeast Alaska, the harvest also rose significantly, to 2,738,000 fish, including 2,102,000 chum, 247,000 pink, 184,000 sockeye, 109,000 kings and 97,000 silvers.

Copper Makes Salmon Vulnerable to Predators

A Washington State University researcher says in a new report in the journal Ecological Applications that minute amounts of copper from mining operations can affect salmon in a way the results in them being eaten easily by predators.

Jenifer McIntyre, a postdoctoral research associate in WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, said she found the metal affects salmon’s sense of smell so much that they won’t detect a compound that ordinarily alerts them to be still and wary.

Her research was conducted for a University of Washington doctorate with colleagues at UW and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“My paper builds off of a large body of literature on this topic, mostly led by NOAA scientists,” she said in an interview July 16.

Earlier research showed that copper is neurotoxic to a fish’s sense of smell. Other research showed that when a salmon’s sense of smell is affected, its behavior changes.

McIntyre put the two together, exposing juvenile coho salmon to varying amounts of copper and placing them in tanks with cutthroat trout, a common predator.

The results, she reported, were striking.

Salmon are attuned to smell a substance called Schreckstoff, German for “scary stuff,” which is released when a fish is physically damaged, alerting nearby fish to the predator’s presence.

In her experiments, conducted in a four-foot-diameter tank, fish that were not exposed to copper would freeze in the presence of Schreckstoff, making it harder for motion-sensitive predators to detect them. On average, half a minute would go by before they were attacked, McIntyre said.

By contrast, salmon in water with just five parts of copper per billion failed to detect the Schreckstoff, kept swimming, and were attacked in about five seconds, she said.

The unwary exposed fish were also more likely to be killed in the attack, being captured 30 percent of the time on the first strike. Unexposed fish managed to escape the first strike nearly nine times out of ten, most likely because they were already wary and poised to take evasive action.

McIntyre also noticed that the behavior of predators was the same whether or not they had been exposed to copper.

Researchers Find Decreasing Trends in Salmon Spawning

A new study of productivity of 64 sockeye salmon populations concludes that the number of adult sockeye salmon produced per spawner has been decreasing over the last decade or more along the West Coast of North America.

The report by Randall Peterman and Brigitte Dorner was published recently in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. It says that this widespread decrease in productivity, from Washington state north through British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, has important implications for management of salmon stocks and requires research into its potential causes to help determine future management strategies.

Peterman is a professor and Canada research chair in fisheries risk assessment and management at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, in Burnaby, British Columbia.

He noted in an email response to a query on the study that biologists in several fisheries management agencies, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, provided data to the researchers.

Peterman said it is possible that the downward trends in productivity across the sockeye stocks south of central Alaska are the result of a variety of causes, such as freshwater habitat degradation or contaminants, that have each independently affected many small regions. Still, he said the large spatial extent of similar time trends in productivity for over 25 stocks has occurred in both relatively pristine and heavily disturbed habitats.

This, he said, suggests that shared mechanisms are a more likely explanation, such as high mortality owing to predators, pathogens or poor food supply across Washington, British Columbia, Southeast Alaska and the Yakutat region of Alaska.

Peterson and Dorner analyzed productivity in 64 sockeye salmon populations. They found that the decline in productivity of Fraser River sockeye salmon in British Columbia was not unique to that river system, and that productivity has also declined rapidly in many other populations since the 1990s.

The authors also found that the region with downward trends in productivity has spread further north over the past two decade, an observation they said is consistent with large-scale changes in climate-driver oceanographic patterns that were previously implicated as drivers of sockeye productivity.
The study, “A widespread decrease in productivity of sockeye salmon populations in western North America,” appears in the August issue of Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

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