Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pinbone Removal Tech Sparks Interest

Technology that detects the bones in filleted fish and suggests an optimal cut based on processors’ pre-defined specifications is already installed in several European countries and is now drawing more interest in the United States.

A spokeswoman for Marel, in Reykjavik, Iceland, says that Alaskan and Seattle processors are looking into the benefits of such systems for their operations both onshore and offshore. At least one FleXicut system designed by Marel was installed on the US East Coast earlier this year, said Stella Bjorg Kristinsdottir, marketing manager for the Icelandic firm.

Pinbones are located at the most valuable part of the fillet and these bones are usually removed from the fillet by manual cutting, a labor-intensive process that requires skill that takes time and practice to develop. It is also critical that the cutting, whether manual or automatic, does not leave bone or bone fragments in the fillet, and that the amount of high value raw material cut away with the pinbone removal is minimal, she said.

The FleXicut combines waterjet cutters and traditional cutting blades to remove the pinbone and portion the fillet in an optimal way. Along with labor reduction, the FleXicut system also improves productivity, raw material utilization, and uniformity of end product, while reducing product handling.. “We believe that processors that install an integrated FleXicut system are taking an important step into the future and will gain a competitive edge in today’s challenging business environment,” she said. “We also know that the combination of shorter production time and less manual product handling will result in higher quality end product with less bones, that also will be appreciated by the end consumer.”

The technology stems from APRICOT (automated pinbone removal in cod and whitefish) which was the working name of a collaborative project initiated several years ago by Nordic Innovation, Marel, Norway Seafood, Faroe Origin and Sintef.

Watch a video of the overall benefits of an integrated Marel system, online at http://player.vimeo.com/video/198822203?badge=0&autoplay=1

Alaska Salmon Catch Exceeds 75 Million Fish

Alaska’s wild salmon catch now exceeds 75 million fish, up from some 48 million salmon caught commercially through last week.

The latest preliminary harvest figures compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) break down the catch to date to 43.5 million sockeyes, 18.7 million pinks, 12.2 million chums, 506,000 cohos and 221,000 Chinook salmon.

Of that total more than 35 million fish have come from Bristol Bay, including 34 million red salmon. The Nushagak District had the highest harvest boastingmore than 11.3 million salmon, followed closely by the Egegik district with 10.5 million and the Ugashik district at 4.6 million salmon.

The Cook Inlet fisheries have delivered 1.7 million salmon to processors, including 1.4 million sockeyes, 152,000 chums, 132,000 pinks, 11, 000 cohos and 5,000 kings, while in Prince William Sound the commercial catch of 17.5 million salmon broke down to over 12 million humpies, 4.3 million chums, over one thousand red and 13,000 king salmon.

On the Lower Yukon River, the catch of oil rich keta salmon was at 441,000 fish, with another 127,000 chums brought in from the Upper Yukon River.

In Southeast Alaska, commercial harvesters have delivered nearly 4 million fish, including 3.8 million chums, nearly 3 million pinks, 419,000 cohos, 179,000 reds and 153,000 kings.

Processors in Alaska’s Western region have receive an estimated 12.3 million fish, of which 6.8 million were reds, 3.4 million were humpies and 1.9 million were chum salmon.

Changes Coming in Alaska Symphony of Seafood

In order to better serve the industry, the upcoming Alaska Symphony of Seafood events will be held during Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, Washington, in November and in mid-February in Juneau, Alaska.

According to Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF), the change of locations and scheduling are coming at the request of the industry, to provide more lead time for entries into the competition and allow winning products to also be included in national and international competitions, giving them greater exposure.

The call for product is to be released in mid-August, with all entry forms and fees due by October 6. Entries will be accepted into one of four categories: Retail (including smoked product), Food Service, Beyond the Plate and Beyond the Egg.

Winners will have the opportunity to display their products at the Seafood Expo North American in Boston March 11-13, 2018. For the first time, winning entries will also be entered into SENA’s Seafood Excellence Awards competition.

Information will be posted online at www.afdf.org/symphony-of-seafood/

The Symphony, now in its 25th year, will hold a unique sponsorship at Pacific Marine Expo from November 16−19, with activities to include a “Hall of Fame” displaying 25 years of winning products, a panel presentation about the importance of produce development for the seafood industry, an announcement of the Seattle People’s Choice winner, and other promotional activities, Decker said.

Guests at the February’s event are to include legislators in session in Juneau.

AFDF, a private, non-profit entity, depends on sponsors to fund the event.

Major sponsors from the 2016 symphony were the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska Air Cargo, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, At-sea Processors Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Alaskan Brewing Co., Marel, Northwest Fisheries Association, Kwik’Pak Fisheries LLC, Trident Seafoods, UniSea and United Fishermen of Alaska.

New GE Salmon Leveling Bill Introduced in Senate

New legislation mandating the labeling of genetically engineered salmon introduced in the US Senate would require specific labeling of that product to assure that consumers have all the facts about what they are buying.

“The primary purpose of this bill is to ensure that consumers have all the facts and can make an informed decision when they are purchasing salmon,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sponsor of the Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act.

“There is a huge difference between ‘Frankenfish’ and the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing, and I want to make sure folks are aware of that,” Murkowski said. “The potential for escapement from pens to occur from hatcheries and any facility where fish are grown would decrease the immense value of our fisheries,” she said.

“These Frankenfish could wreak havoc upon wild stocks and pose a serious threat to the livelihoods of fishermen everywhere,” she added.

The bill would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure a third party independent scientific review of the federal Food and Drug Administration’s environmental assessment for all genetically modified finfish, including GE salmon, for human consumption.

Co-sponsors of the legislation include Senators Maria Cantwell, D-WA.; Jeff Merkley, D-OR; and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

New Freezer for Bristol Bay Salmon in 2018

Two commercial fisheries veterans are renovating a former helicopter logging barge in Sitka,Alaska, with plans to use it as a floating processor in Bristol Bay in 2018.

“We’re looking to start in the Ugashik [River],” said Pat Glaab, who is partnering with Ben Blakey in Northline Seafoods, to offer harvesters not equipped with cooling systems on their fishing vessels a method of delivering consistently high quality fish.

“The Bay is still struggling with getting refrigeration to fish,” said Glaab. “Our model is the fish is never better than when they come out of the water. We will park the barge where you would normally park a tender. We will give them slush ice, and all the fish they catch will go into the slush ice.”

Once the catch is delivered back to the barge, it will be flash frozen immediately.

By providing ice to their fishermen, Northline also hopes to substantially increase the incomes of those delivering to them.

“We’re talking about 50 percent more for the same fish because they will have access to cooling,” Blakey said. “Our process makes that available to everybody who fishes for us.”

Glaab and Blakey said they are confident that the barge, once renovation is completed, will have the capacity to freeze up to 300,000 pounds, or some 50,000 salmon, every day.

“Last summer we frozen 10,000 to15,000 pounds a day of pink, chum and sockeye salmon from Southeast Alaska,” Blakey said. “When our fish were compared with other product on the market, ours was consistently higher quality than other headed and gutted coming out of Alaska at the time.

This summer in Sitka, Northline anticipates freezing a smaller volume of pink and chum salmon, as renovation of the barge continues. “We are producing a product and proving you can preserve the quality of the roe and the fish,” Glaab said.

Flash freezing will also maintain the quality of the head, guts and fish oil, all with potential marketability in products including fishmeal and pet foods.

“This can’t be anything but helpful,” said Norm Van Vactor, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. at Dillingham, Alaska, who is also a seafood industry veteran.

“In rural locations the cost of production is significantly higher than doing it in other places,” he said. “Freezing fish appropriately in the round means you can process the fish in a preliminary stage with minimum cost.”

It’s not for everyone, but it will certainly be a viable solution and a positive forward step for certain areas, areas that might not be able to justify a large shore based processing facility and the cost of tendering with it.

Alaska’s Salmon Harvest Nears 48 Million Fish

Preliminary harvest data show the catch in Alaska’s wild salmon fisheries is nearing the 48 million fish mark. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ASF&G) count includes 31.6 million sockeyes, 8.4 million chums, 7.6 million pinks, 198,000 silvers and 193,000 Chinook salmon.

More than 25 million of those sockeyes were caught in the Bristol Bay fishery, including 9.6 million in the Nushagak district, 8 million in the Egegik district, in excess of 4 million in the Naknek-Kvichak district and 2.2 million in the Ugashik district.

State fisheries biologist Tim Sands, Dillingham, Alaska, described the sockeye fishery in the Nushagak district as “gangbusters,” as fishermen there brought in a record 1.2 million salmon on July 3. It was the second time this year, and in the history of the Nushagak district, that the daily sockeye salmon harvest exceeded one million reds, Sands said.

Processors on the Lower Yukon have taken deliver of some 331,000 oil rich keta salmon, and another 66,000 keta salmon were caught on the Upper Yukon.

Processors in Prince William Sound have received 7.9 million fish, including 482,000 Copper River reds and another 417,000 sockeyes from the Eshamy District, 51,000 from the Coghill District, 33,000 from the PWS general seine fishery, 2,000 from the Bering River drift and 1,000 from the Unakwik District drift fisheries.

PWS also had 2.9 million chums, nearly 4 million pinks and 13,000 king salmon.

Cook Inlet harvesters have brought in some 777,000 fish, including 671,000 reds, 61,000 chums, 40,000 pinks, 3,000 kings and 2,000 silver salmon.

Harvesters in the Western region have an overall catch of 9.4 million salmon, including 6.7 million in the Alaska Peninsula, 1.5 million more at Kodiak and more than 1 million at Chignik. The breakdown for the Western region was 5.7 million reds, 2.4 million pinks, 1.3 million chums, 12,000 kings and 14,000 coho salmon.

EPA Restriction Withdrawal Proposed for Pebble Mine

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials says that they are proposing to withdraw their July 2014 Clean Water Act proposed determination for the Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. That determination would, if finalized, impose restrictions on the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with the mine.

EPA agreed to initiate the proposed withdrawal as part of a May 11, 2017 settlement agreement with the Pebble Limited Partnership.The matter is to be posted by mid-July in the Federal Register, after which the EPA has set a 90-day period for public comment on the proposed withdrawal of those restrictions. All comments must be received on or before the end of that timeframe.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said on June 27 that she had raised concerns with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that a public comment period during the midst of the commercial fishing season would not allow enough time for all relevant stakeholders to weigh in. Murkowski said she requested the 90-day comment period to allow for local stakeholders to be heard in the process.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) is urging the EPA to extend the comment period to no less than 120 days and to hold hearings in the Bristol Bay region, so its residents can express their opinions.

“Thousands of fishermen and women are currently in Bristol Bay participating in what is proving to be a tremendously successful commercial fishing season,” said Jason Metrokin, chief executive officer of BBNC, “That the EPA is now proposing to withdraw potential protections for this world class billion-dollar resource is not sound economic or environmental policy.”

More information, including the pre-publication Federal Register Notice announcing the public comment period, is available online at https://www.epa.gov/bristolbay

Comments may be emailed to: ow-docket@epa.gov with docket number EPA-R10-OW-2017-0369 in the subject line.

Increasing Risk of Oil Spills in North Pacific Basin

New reports in Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology outline how the increase in marine vessel traffic, and oil and gas exploration and development in the North Pacific basin pose increased risks of oil spills.

The leading journal of studies on environmental pollution, released a special issue on July 10 devoted to monitoring and evaluating effects and repercussions of oil spills It can be found at https://link.springer.com/journal/244/onlineFirst/page/1.

Original research featured in this issue includes major discoveries from scientific studies of oil spill effects on marine ecosystems and environments, beginning with the 1989 Exxon Valdez, and increasing recognition on the limited ability of scientists to evaluate the damage caused by those events.

The articles offer a framework for assessing oil spill risks to marine mammals that considers length of exposure, potential for oil adhesion, inhalation, direct and indirect ingestion, in addition to the likelihood of population-level effects of an oil spill determined by population size, distribution, diversity of diet and susceptibility of prey to decline.

The Trump administration has opened a public comment period on a new five-year (2017-2022) offshore drilling program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf, which would allow for the expansion of drilling efforts into environmentally significant areas.

The 45-day comment period began with the publication of the notice in the Federal Register on July 3, and ends on August 17.

Opinions can be submitted electronically at https://www.boem.gov/Public-Engagement-Opportunities/ by clicking on the “open comment document” link and following the instructions to view the relevant documents prior to submission All comments must be received on or before August 17.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Alaska’s Salmon Harvest Nears 23 Million Fish

Preliminary harvest data shows the catch in Alaska’s wild salmon fisheries rose to over 22.7 million fish through July 4, including a record 1.2 million salmon caught on July 3 in Bristol Bay’s Nushagak District. It was the second time this year, and in the history of the Nushagak District, that the daily sockeye salmon harvest exceeded one million reds, noted Tim Sands, an area biologist at Dillingham for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who described the sockeye fishery as “gangbusters.”

As of July 4, the cumulative Nushagak District harvest stood at 5.2 million sockeyes, with 542 permits and 421 vessels registered to fish there. The strength of the run has been such that Peter Pan Seafoods still had its harvesters on limits, and two other processors, Silver Bay and Ekuk Fisheries had suspended buying on the morning of Independence Day, Sands said.

The surge of reds aside, four vessels harvesting in the Nushagak were partially submerged after taking on water, but good Samaritan boats assisted everyone on board and no injuries were reported. “More than one boat out there was deck loaded with lots of fish on board and you throw weather into that mix and it can go fast,” Sands said. One of the vessels involved was reported to have about 14,000 pounds of fish on board, far exceeding its capacity.

The preliminary Bristol Bay harvest, totaling 10.5 million salmon, including 9.6 million reds, also includes 3.5 million sockeyes harvested in the Egegik District, 720,000 in the Naknek-Kvichak, 140,000 in the Ugashik and 40,000 at Togiak.

Processors in Prince William Sound have received nearly 14 million fish, including 445,000 Copper River reds and another 331,000 sockeyes from the Eshamy District. Cook Inlet harvesters have brought in some 270,000 fish, including 253,000 reds.

Harvests mounted too in the Western Region with a catch of 5.7 million salmon in the Alaska Peninsula, 829,000 more at Kodiak and 752,000 at Chignik.

Harvests of oil-rich keta salmon have reached 204,000 on the Lower Yukon River and 31,000 on the Upper Yukon.

Witherell Succeeds Oliver at NPFMC

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) in Anchorage, Alaska has announced the appointment of David Witherell as its new executive director.

Witherell joined the council in 1992, first as a plan coordinator, then in 2002 became deputy director. Prior to being hired by the council, he was a marine biologist for the state of Massachusetts, working on resource surveys and stock assessments. He earned a master’s degree in fisheries biology from the University of Massachusetts.

Council chairman Dan Hull said that Witherell “brings a long history of council experience and proven leadership skills as deputy director. We’re very pleased and fortunate that he has accepted the executive director position.”

Oliver was named on June 19 as the new assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, taking the helm from acting assistant administrator Samuel Rauch, who then returned to his post as deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs.

Concerns in Southeast Alaska Over Transboundary Mine

Concerns are growing again in Southeast Alaska over the potential purchase of a British Columbia mine that has been leaking acid drainage into the salmon rich Taku watershed for more than 50 years, which has not been cleaned up as promised.

In a statement issued this past week, Frederick Olsen Jr., chairman of the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Work Group, said he found it shocking that British Columbia has not discussed the implications of a new buyer for the Tulsequah Chief mine with the state of Alaska through the statement of cooperation signed last year. “Alaska needs to seek the help of the U.S. federal government to hold British Columbia accountable for its environmental responsibilities at Tulsequah Chief,” Olsen said.

Nearly two years ago B.C.’s then Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett came to Juneau, Alaska, flew over the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine, and promised to clean up the ongoing acid mine drainage, said Chris Zimmer, of Rivers Without Borders.

The current mine owner, Chieftain Metals, declared bankruptcy in September 2016 and the company was placed in receivership. On June 2, the receiver, Grant Thornton, posted documents on its website showing a new company was interested in purchasing the mine, with the company’s name redacted from the documents, Zimmer said.

Asked for comment on the issue, Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott said the state’s BC counterparts are aware that “we are concerned over the potential sale of the Tulsequah Chief mine and we will have the opportunity to reengage with our bilateral workgroup once their new provincial leadership takes office. Mallott also said he plans to meet in Washington, DC in July with the State Department, International Joint Commission and Alaska’s congressional delegation about the issue.

BC officials have so far declined to comment, noting that any statement regarding the future of the Tulsequah Chief mine won’t be forthcoming at least until its new government is sworn in.

Juvenile Pollock Survival Better Than Expected

A new federal study suggests that young Pollock survived at a rate better than anticipated during the most recent warm phase in the Bering Sea, having found alternative resources not available during the last warming phase.

With 2017 showing signs of cooling, Pollock populations may have successfully weathered the warm years of 2014 though 2016, according to a report by scientists with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center published in the journal PLOS on June 28.

Juvenile Pollock need energy-rich prey to survive winter in the Bering Sea.

The study led by NOAA Fisheries scientist Janet Duffy-Anderson showed that Arctic algae are attached to the sea ice. When the ice melts, said Duffy-Anderson, “these algae are released into the water column to be eaten by larger, oil-rich zooplankton, which are in turn eaten by young Pollock fattening up to prepare for the Bering Sea’s harsh winter. This chain of events is critical to Pollock success.”

The 2001-2005 warm stanza triggered ecological changes that resulted in a decline in the number of walleye Pollock, ultimately leading to a 40 percent reduction in the fishing quota. Sea ice eventually returned to the southeast Bering Sea shelf, bringing cold sea temperatures from 2007 to 2013, with oil-rich prey. By 2013, recruitment to the Pollock fishery recovered completely.

When ocean conditions turned warm again in 2014, scientists were concerned this was the start of a new warm stanza. Pollock survival declined, as expected after 2014, and 2015 proved to be even warmer, but scientists said it was warm for a reason not seen before.

The year 2015 acted like a cold year, with strong winds from the north pushing Arctic sea ice southward to the southern Bering Sea, but the sea ice was stopped by “the Blob,” a mass of warm water from the Gulf of Alaska invading the Bering Sea.

By 2016, with sea ice absent, the water was very warm over the southern shelf, and while large copepod preys were scarce, krill remains in the area.

Young Pollock from the southern shelf may have taken refuge in the northern cold pool in 2015, feeding on fat-rich copepods or krill, and then in 2016 they consumed large numbers of krill, possibly remnant populations from 2015. This suggests that switching prey sources figured in their survival, said Duffy-Anderson. Successive warm years due to reduced Arctic winds, weak sea ice advance and warm ocean temperatures still, however, spell trouble for Pollock, she said.

The complete study appears online at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0178955

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