By Margaret Bauman
Harvesting of wild Alaska pollock, the nation’s largest commercial fishery, is under way in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska for 1,387,146 metric tons of the whitefish, up 3.8 percent over last year’s allowable harvest.
A year ago the total allowable catch was 1,335,944 metric tons, with the harvest measured at 1,207,726 metric tons, the second highest since 2007 when the TAC was 1,481,317 metric tons and fishermen brought in 1,408,66 metric tons.
The Pacific cod TAC for this year is 320,600 metric tons, down from 326,701 metric tons in 2012. In 2011, when in which the cod TAC was 293,050 metric tons, the highest since 2007, fishermen harvested 300,559 metric tons.
Genuine Alaska pollock, a member of the cod family, average 1.5 pounds to 2 pounds in weight. It is a popular ingredient in more than 1,000 consumer products worldwide, from value-added seafood meals and breaded products such as fish sticks, to fish and chips and surimi seafood products.
Alaska cod, a flaky textured whitefish with a slightly sweet flavor, average 5 to 10 pounds, and are also adaptable to most cooking methods, from baking and poaching to deep-frying for fish and chips.
Data compiled by the McDowell group in Juneau for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute notes slightly lower average prices per pound this year, as the market offerings include a big increase in the supply of Atlantic cod. The global supply of Alaska pollock is also much higher than it was in 2008-2009, and cod prices have fallen significantly in Europe.
The financial meltdown also had an impact on cod prices in 2009, the latest date for which they are calculated; the threat in Europe still looms, and ex-vessel prices have not come up much since then, said Andy Wink, a seafood analyst with McDowell.
But the Euro has actually gained value against the dollar in the last three to four months, so it’s pretty close to what it was last year at this time. “That’s good, since it’s good for Alaska seafood when our buyer’s currencies are strong,” he said.
Right now frozen pollock fillets from Alaska sell for 10 cents to 20 cents premium per pound over twice-frozen Russian product, and the big question is whether Marine Stewardship Council certification will affect that price premium. Alaska’s pollock is MSC certified and certification of the Russian product is now pending.
One big unanswered question is whether MSC certification, if it happens at all, will affect that price premium.
The At-Sea Processors Association announced on Feb. 11 plans to file an official objection by day’s end challenging MSC certification of the pollock fishery in the Russian Sea of Okhotsk. APA is a seafood trade association comprised of six companies participating in a number of MSC certified fisheries, including Alaska pollock, Pacific hake, Pacific cod and Alaska flatfish. APA serves as the fishery client for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries.
“Our position is that we have invested a lot in the MSC program over the last 10 years and it is important to us that fisheries that get certified (as sustainable by MSC) really meet the standards, to protect our investment in the program,” said Jim Gilmore, public affairs director for APA. ”While some of our concerns were addressed, most were not,” he said.
Back on Sept. 28, 2012, APA made lengthy comments on the draft report issued by Intertek Moody Marine on the Russia Sea of Okhotsk pollock fishery, on several issues. These included objections to the lack of independent or verifiable catch statistics.
Meanwhile, in shipyards in Tacoma, Washington and Ketchikan, Alaska, shipbuilders were working to complete two new groundfish fishery vessels scheduled for delivery by the end of May.
At the J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. of Tacoma, the Northern Leader, which will be the biggest longliner in the world by volume, is also the first Z-drive, diesel-electric fishing boat ever produced. She was launched at 5:27 a.m. on Jan. 26, said Jonathan Platt, vice president at Martinac. “We have to deal with the tides,” he said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, heralded that launching, calling it a tremendous accomplishment for Martinac and its workers, and good economic news for Pierce County, Washington. “The launch of the Northern Leader is another proud step in the 89-year history of Martinac building ships and creating jobs in the Puget Sound,” she said. “I was proud to write and spearhead the passage of Congressional legislation in 2010 that supported the construction of the Northern Leader. We look forward to building more state-of-the-art fishing vessels right here in Washington State and supporting the growth of our maritime economy.”
The Northern Leader, to be home ported in Kodiak, is being completed now while in the water, since it was too large to finish up indoors.
The vessel, primarily a cod vessel, is owned jointly by the Alaska Leader group of Lynden, Washington, and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., will be 184.3 feet long, 42 feet wide and have a depth of 18.75 feet. She will be capable of carrying 1,000 tons of fish, Platt said. “She will pay out 45 miles of line and drop a hook every four feet, so about 76,000 hooks.” The hook drop will proceed over a period of seven to eight hours, followed by a slower turn around, to pick up the line over a 16 to 18 hour period, he said.
“The people building this boat are very progressive, savvy and they are not only the owner, they fish these boats, and they are a terrific customer for us,” he said.
The Northern Leader is an extremely efficient diesel electric vessel, with everything on the boat run by generators, Platt said.
The environmentally friendly vessel design allows for full utilization of the targeted fish species by using equipment with minimal environmental impact on the ocean’s ecosystem, while maintaining the lightest possible operational fossil fuel footprint, according to Jensen Maritime, Crowley Maritime Corp.’s Seattle-based naval architecture and marine engineering firm, which designed the Northern Leader.
“We are proud of the innovation we’ve been able to infuse into the design of Northern Leader,” said Jensen’s Johan Sperling, vice president, in a statement issued by the company in December. “We know that commercial fishermen operate in some of the world’s harshest and most isolated environments, which can create extremely hazardous working conditions.
“To counteract the dangers and increase the comforts for the crew, we have designed a vessel that will keep them safe from harm, while capitalizing on the small seasonal window they have for harvesting their catch. The vessel’s ‘green’ features will also help sustain Alaska’s fish population, and thus their livelihood, for years to come,” he said.
The Northern Leaderwill have 38,000 cubic feet of freezer hold representing a frozen production capacity of 1,867,000 pounds, making it one of the largest capacities of any longliner vessel. It will also be capable of fishing 76,800 hooks using a Mustad Autoline Super Baiter simultaneously and will have a daily freezing capacity of 153,000 pounds of headed and gutted product.
With a fuel capacity of approximately 136,000 gallons, its propulsion will be powered by two Schottel Z-Drive rudder propellers of 1,000 kilowatts each and a 300-kilowatt Schottel tunnel thruster. The diesel generating system will be provided by NC Power Systems of Seattle and consist of four Caterpillar C32 gensets rated at 715 kilowatt each, one Caterpillar C-18 genset rated at 425 kilowatts each, and one Caterpillar C9 genset rated at 238 kilowatts.
In Ketchikan, meanwhile, Alaska Ship and Drydock has been in construction for the Alaska Longline Co.’s new factory longlinerArctic Prowler since March of 2012.
The vessel will be 136 feet in length, with a breadth of 41 feet, depth of 26 feet 3 inches, and draft of 15 feet. Freezer capacity for the Arctic Prowler will be 16,300 cubic feet.
Plans are to deliver the new vessel in May, said Doug Ward, a spokesman for ASD, a Vigor Industrial company that is managing ASD under a 30-year operating agreement with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.
The Arctic Prowler, which will operate in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, is a steel hulled vessel also designed by Jensen Maritime Consultants. It will be the fourth vessel in Alaska Longline Co.’s fishing fleet, featuring an auto-line, circle-hook baiting system and state-of-the-art freezing system for Pacific cod, sable fish and turbot. It will be the first vessel completed in ASD’s state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot assembly hall, which can accommodate ships up to 250 feet, with a maximum capacity of 500 feet.
The assembly hall has an adjacent five-story production center designed to minimize material flow and maximize efficiency. Randy Johnson, ASD’s vice-chairman, characterizes the project as a great example of government and industry working together to create employment and investment opportunity in Alaska.
“The partnership between ASD and AIDEA has allowed the creation of a new and invigorated industry in Ketchikan,” Ted Leonard, executive director of AIDEA, noted last August. “This true public/private partnership has resulted in the development of a state-of-the-art facility that has created and continues to create new jobs in the region and new opportunities for the state.”
The next phase of improvements scheduled for the Ketchikan Shipyard will include a $10 million steel fabrication shop to be completed late this summer.