Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ComFish 2015 Offers Federal and State Updates, Filleting and Films

Representatives of state and federal fisheries agencies, research and environmental entities are on tap for presentations April 2-4 during ComFish 2015, Kodiak Island’s annual fisheries forum and trade show.

This year’s presenters include Denby Lloyd, executive director of the North Pacific Research Board, speaking about research to better understand the ecosystems of the North Pacific, Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean; and Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten, with an update on federal fisheries issues.

ComFish forum topics will run the gamut from how to survive man overboard situations and new vessel safety compliance programs to updates on NOAA Fisheries’ commercial crab management and research programs.

Ted Teske, with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will lead the discussion on the importance of using Coast Guard approved personal floatation devices. Alex Perry of the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center will offer advice on how to log fishing trips into the Observer Declare and Deploy Systems (ODDS) for the partial coverage observer program.

Several environmental groups are sponsoring Fish Taco Night, featuring Kodiak Jig Seafoods cod fish tacos on the second evening of ComFish.

Representatives of Kodiak’s seven shoreside processors will compete on the final day of ComFish in a lively outdoor fish filleting and trimming contest, during which they will be judged on speed, form and quality of their filleting. Also featured on the final day will be two films showcasing Bristol Bay fisheries: “A Legacy Story-Protecting the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay from Offshore Oil and Gas Development,” and “In the Same Boat, a documentary about promoting Bristol Bay as a standard for fisheries around the world.

A complete ComFish schedule and a list of trade show participants is online at

Powdered Salmon Project Shows Promise for Marketing and Nutrition

Wild Alaska salmon processed into a powder is a work in progress of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, in an effort to market millions of pounds of the fish, while providing protein to hungry people worldwide.

Nutritionists contracted by ASMI are currently concentrating on making the salmon powder as “sensory neutral” as possible, said Bruce Schactler, of Kodiak, who heads up ASMI’s global food aid program.

The powder is made from heads and frames of salmon, in a process that is still in the development phase. Right now it is 65 percent protein, but all indications are we can improve on that, he said.

There is potential for pollock and cod too, but that would involve working out details with the seafood industry for product that could be produced in an economically feasible manner for the industry during the fishing seasons for both pollock and cod, he said.

A major factor in big food aid programs is their limit on the cost of freight. Freight costs are significant for canned salmon and canned herring, and the same product in powdered form would be less expensive to ship. ‘Right now the raw product for salmon powder is coming from the waste stream of heads and frames not being used at all, primarily pink salmon.

ASMI officials say their pilot project on consumer acceptability of Alaska salmon powder among 7,000 children in the Republic of Congo during the 2014-2015 school year is a huge success.

Funding for research and development of the powdered salmon has been a real public-private partnership, involving funding from the Alaska Legislature, the seafood industry and non-government organizations. It is these NGOs who participate in developing and distributing these products in Asia and Africa, in areas where high quality proteins are lacking in diets. ASMI officials said that the Republic of Congo project demonstrated that salmon powder can be consumed daily during the school year and provide vital nutrients on a mass scale. With high consumer ratings, the product has huge commercial possibilities, they said.

Participants from coastal communities especially liked the salmon, and enjoyed the strong fish flavor. They said the powder would have great potential in areas of high fish consumption and appreciation of strong flavored or salty fish, including Liberia, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, and Southeast Asia countries like the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos.

The project, said ASMI officials, is generating valuable consumer information to develop a retail product that allows more high quality marine nutrients to be delivered per unit of product.

“We are working on trying to come up with the right recipe, that tastes good enough to get people to eat enough to get the right protein,” Schactler said.

Processor Plans Fall Short of Bristol Bay Harvest Forecast

Processors of Bristol Bay’s famed sockeye salmon say they are prepared to purchase and process 35.5 million reds, out of a run forecast of 37.6 million fish.

Results of the survey of 14 processors in early March by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows that the intended purchase is 6 percent, or 2.1 million fish lower than the forecasted harvest.

The survey estimated a maximum daily harvest capacity of 2.5 million fish, which could be sustained for 21 days.

The survey also shows that the processing capacity has increased since the last survey, conducted in 2011. Much of the increased capacity was attributed to the entry of a new processor into the fishery, a processor with a capacity on par with many larger processors of Bristol Bay fish.

Many processors also indicated incremental increases in processing capacity associated with various equipment upgrades over time. Total processing capacity, as estimated from total intended purchases, from the 2015 survey of 35.5 million fish, is 9 percent greater than the 2011 estimated season capacity of 195.6 million pounds, the ADF&G survey showed. Similarly, the 2015 estimated daily processing capacity of 2.5 million salmon, or 14.5 million pounds, is 8 percent greater than the 2011 daily capacity of 2.1 million fish, or 12 million pounds.

The total intended purchases, however, still falls 6 percent sort of the harvest forecast, according to the ADF&G survey. The Bristol Bay area commercial salmon fishery includes all coastal and inland waters east of a line from Cape Newenham to Cape Menshikof, and includes the Naknek, Kvichak, Alagnak, Egegik, Ugashik, Wood, Nushagak, Igushik and Togiak river systems. The fishery is divided into five major management districts: Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik, Ugashik, Nushagak, and Togiak.

The survey estimates processing capacity for the entire Bristol Bay area and does not break down capacity by district. The complete survey is online at

Four Running for Two Seats on BBRSDA Board

Another election cycle is underway for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, with two candidates each vying for the Alaska resident and non-Alaska resident seats respectively.

Ballots went out on March 11 to the Bristol Bay drift gillnet permit holders represented by the association. To be counted as votes, they had to be postmarked by April 10 and received by the BBRSDA by April 17.

Election results were to be announced by the end of April.

Candidates for Seat B for Alaska residents are Alexander Smith, of Aleknagik, and Abe Williams, of Anchorage. Both are fourth generation Bristol Bay harvesters.

Candidates for Seat E, for non-Alaska residents, are Buck Gibbons, of Bellingham, Washington, and David Harsila, of Seattle.

Each candidate responded to a five-part candidate questionnaire posed by the board. They were asked why they want to serve on the board, what they think is the most important mission of the BBRSDA, their three priorities for the association, their views on the BBRSDA’s strategic plan, and any other issues they wish to raise.

Their responses to the questionnaire are posted online at

The association’s work through the all-volunteer board is supported by a 1 percent assessment on each permit holder’s harvest.

Each year the board considers proposals for a number of projects regarding marketing, fish quality, research and sustainability.

Those funded for the current year included a study of socio-economic impacts of a potential Bristol Bay drift permit buyback, research on salmon habitat in the Nushagak and Mulchatna rivers by University of Washington fisheries biologist Daniel Schindler, support of ice barge operating costs for two barges, and expanded coverage of commercial fisheries by Dillingham’s public radio station, KDLG.

The board also granted funds to support filmmaker Mark Titus’s award-winning fisheries documentary “The Breach,” to promote support of the Bristol Bay fishery habitat and marketing of Bristol Bay’s wild sockeye salmon. “The Breach” won a prestigious award at an Irish film festival in 2014 and is currently being shown in selected theaters across the United States.

A complete list of the BBRSDA’s projects for this year is also posted at the website.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NPFMC Gears Up for Bering Sea Halibut Bycatch Decision

With Alaska’s commercial halibut fishery underway, for a harvest limit of 18,474,000 pounds, federal fisheries managers are continuing to wrestle with the thorny issue of halibut caught incidentally in Bering Sea groundfish fisheries.

A final decision on prohibited species catch of halibut in Bering Sea groundfish fisheries is scheduled for the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sitka.

At its February meeting in Seattle, the NPFMC modified alternatives under evaluation for final action, with a substantiated change in expanding the range of potential reduction for each prohibited species catch limit under consideration.

The council expanded potential reductions to each sector’s prohibited species catch limit up to 50 percent.

The council also adopted recommendations from staff to align the language of the prohibited species catch reduction options to the council’s intent of evaluating a reduced limit for all target fisheries currently subject to halibut limits, and also included separate sub-options for Amendment 80 cooperatives and limited access.

When bycatch rises, catch limits to directed halibut fisheries are adversely affected.

Numerous fishermen have testified before the federal council that halibut bycatch must be reduced because of its economic impact on residents of coastal Alaska who fish for halibut. They have also voiced concerns about declining halibut biomass, and sustainability of halibut stocks.

But Dennis Moran, president of Fishermen’s Finest Inc., one of the Amendment 80 participants in the groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea, argues that further cuts in prohibited species catch of halibut in the Bering Sea groundfish fisheries would have adverse economic impact, including jobs, in the multi-million dollar fishery.

“The low ebb of the halibut biomass right now is a problem, but if the only tool you use is reallocation (of the halibut resource), you are going to make a mess, and our concern is they are on track to make a mess,” he said.

Moran said there are other economic considerations at stake, including a new multi-million dollar vessel being built in Anacortes, WA, to be ready for the fishery in three years. “We look the lead at the end of last year, signed the contract, and it will work, but it can’t work if all of a sudden they yank all the fish away from you,” he said.

“We have made the investment (of $60 million to $90 million), which will provide 600 jobs for three years, in Washington State,” he said. “What pays for that is the fish. If you mess around with allocation rules midstream, people will be afraid to make the investment.”

Moran also contends that halibut bycatch has ebbed substantially since 2007, when their fishery was rationalized with Amendment 80, and that while Amendment 80 and American Fisheries Act catcher processors have full observer coverage, the hook and line fleet and directed halibut fishermen do not.
The IPHC is interested in working with NMFS and the NPFMC to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan for bycatch management in Alaska, they said.

The NPFMC is expected to hear more testimony at its June meeting arguing the sustainability and economic arguments surrounding this issue, including options to reduce that prohibited species catch limit of halibut up to 50 percent.

Fisheries Society Says Susitna Dam Threatens Alaska’s Wild Salmon

Members of the American Fisheries Society say Alaska’s proposed Susitna Dam project, already axed by Gov. Bill Walker, in the face of declining oil revenues, would be bad news for fisheries and aquatic ecosystems in the state’s Susitna River Basin.

“With the recent decline in the price of fossil fuels, and the increased value of fish and other ecosystem services provided by the Susitna River, the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydropower project is both economically and environmentally untenable,” the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society said in a letter in early March to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“The Division hopes that the FERC and Alaska Legislature consider the consequences that this project will create for the fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems of the Susitna River Basin,” said Hilda Sexauer, president of the Western Division of AFS.

A copy of Sexauer’s letter to FERC was released in mid-March by the Susitna River Coalition, a grassroots organization in Talkeetna, AK, working to halt the Susitna dam project.

The letter adds to a growing body of evidence that highlights the inherent risks and unexpected consequences of the project, said Mike Wood, board president of the coalition. Wood said he hoped the letter would aid the governor and the Alaska Legislature in coming to the right decision, “which is to put this project back on the shelf it’s been on these past 30 years.”

AFS is the world’s oldest and largest scientific and professional organization whose mission is to advance sound science, promote professional development and disseminate science-based fisheries information. The Western Division, the largest of four geographic subdivisions of the society, represents 3,500 fisheries professionals, including Alaskans.

“Additionally, the Division recommends that carefully designed, robust and statistically defensible sampling be conducted and critically reviewed by the subject matter experts, should further studies be completed prior to project approval,” she told FERC. “Following this protocol will ensure the validity of data collected, allowing for precise analysis and modeling of the environmental consequences.”

Sexauer said that the society also intends to provide more formal, technical comments in response to the Alaska Energy Authority’s initial study report on the Susitna dam project.

The Susitna River Basin is home to all five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, burbot, Arctic char and lake trout. The Susitna River is also home to Alaska’s fourth largest Chinook salmon population and second largest recreational Chinook salmon fishery.

Sexauer’s letter to FERC is online at

Blue North Launches Humane Harvest Initiative

Blue North Fisheries, a Seattle based natural resource company engaged in the cod fisheries, has announced a new humane harvest initiative, aimed at establishing ethical standards for fish harvesting.

“The Humane Harvest Initiative is based on the recognition that wild fish are sentient beings that deserve to be harvested humanely,” says Kenny Down, president and chief executive officer of Blue North, who announced the new initiative on March 16 at Seafood Expo in Boston.

“This initiative represents a major step forward for Blue North, furthering our goal to provide the purest, healthiest whole food to our customers while at the same time being conscientious about how we treat marine life.”

The initiative deepens Blue North’s commitment to sustainability through several key components informed by strong scientific evidence, a commitment to more humane practices and coordination with the environmental community, the company said in a statement.

One way the humane harvest initiative will work to establish more ethical practices is through development of a device that reduces stress and pain in wild fish during harvest. Numerous studies have also shown that stress reduction prior to processing produces higher quality and healthier products for consumers.

Blue North currently uses a pneumatic stunning machine on one of its vessels, which uses air pressure to render the fish’s central nervous system asleep before processing. The company is now developing a next generation device that relies on electrodes for added efficiency.

“Fish experience the greatest amount of stress during harvesting and the quality of the fillets is adversely affected,” said Mahmoudreza Ovissipour, a research associate and food scientist at Washington State University, who serves as a founding board member for the company’s Humane Harvest Initiative. “In addition, stress conditions during harvesting and post-harvest processes can induce reactions that decrease the nutritional value and taste quality of the fish fillet.”

The new process is to be implemented on all five of Blue North’s vessels, including its newest vessel, which is scheduled to begin operations in late 2015.

The company’s primary product, wild caught Alaska cod, was the first commercial cod fishery to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and designated as a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Blue North is a producer partner of FishWise, a supplier member of FishChoice, and a business collaborator with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

Commerce Has Action Plan Aimed at IUU Fisheries

A federal plan to confront illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries, including effective seafood traceability, was announced March 15 at Seafood Expo in Boston by US Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews.

Among the 15 recommendations in the presidential task force’s 40-page plan on combating IUU fishing and seafood fraud is one directing the task force to establish, within 18 months, the first phase of a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from point of harvest to entry into commerce in the United States.

Creating an integrated program that better facilitates data collection, sharing and analysis among relevant regulators and enforcement authorities would be a significant step forward in addressing IUU fishing and seafood fraud, the task force said. The plan is for the federal government to work with states, industry, and other stakeholders to develop and implement this program, consistent with US international legal obligations, including US obligations under the World Trade Organization agreement.

The program is to be initially applied to seafood products of particular concern because the species at issue are subject to significant seafood fraud or because they are at significant risk of being caught by IUU fishing.

The overall plan calls for a great deal of cooperative effort between federal, state and local governments, and foreign entities, including a recommendation to exchange relevant information and to encourage foreign customs administrations to cooperate in combatting IUU fishing and seafood fraud.

The final rule on these and other recommendations is to be issued by August 2016, in order for it to be effective by September 2016.

Details on the task force recommendations are posted online at

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Final Action Slated on Bering Sea Salmon Bycatch

Federal fisheries managers are slated to take final action in early April on the incidental harvest of Chinook and chum salmon in the Bering Sea pollock fishery.

Also on the agenda for the April 6-13 meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage are final action on Gulf of Alaska sablefish longline pots, an update on Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands salmon bycatch genetics, a discussion paper on Area 4A halibut retention in sablefish pots, and an initial review of observer coverage on small catcher processors.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, after much deliberation at its December meeting in Anchorage, modified alternatives under consideration to include two major changes.

The first was the option of modification of seasonal apportionment of pollock total allowable catch from the A season to the B season, including shifting 5 percent to 10 percent of the B-season quota into the A-season. The second change would be reducing both the performance standard and the overall prohibited species catch limit by the same percentage reductions of 25 percent to 60 percent in time of low western Alaska Chinook salmon abundance.

The analysis taken under review by the council in December to modify bycatch management for Chinook and chum salmon in the Bering Sea pollock fishery summarized the impacts of several broad management measures. These included combined management measures for Chinook and chum salmon under pollock industry-run incentive plan agreements, modifications to pollock seasons, modifications to management for Chinook under incentive plan agreements, and lower performance standards for Chinook bycatch under conditions of low western Alaska Chinook abundance.

The analysis indicated that moving chum salmon into incentive plan agreement management would likely be beneficial and provide for more comprehensive management of both species.

Measures to incrementally create more stringent incentives within the incentive plan agreements for Chinook salmon were expected to be successful in reducing some additional Chinook salmon bycatch, although actual savings would depend on the magnitude of the incentives and vessel-level responses.

The council concluded that measures to modify the pollock B season were also expected to result in savings of Chinook salmon as they reduced the need to fish in September and October when Chinook bycatch rates are highest. However, this could increase chum salmon bycatch incrementally as well as result in the potential for forgone pollock harvest, particularly at the vessel-level, council staff noted.

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