Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Forecast: Sockeye, Pink Down; Coho, Chum Up

Alaska’s fisheries biologists are anticipating a total commercial salmon catch of 161 million fish in 2016, down from 268 million salmon a year ago, with a projected pink salmon harvest of 100 million fewer humpies than last year’s catch of 190.5 million.

The forecast for a smaller humpy harvest, although significant, is not unusual, nor is it cause for concern, because in the past couple of decades pink salmon runs have tended to be lower in even years, then up in odd years.

While the overall sockeye salmon harvest is anticipated to be some 7.3 million fish fewer than were harvested in 2015, the 2015 red salmon harvest was the largest since 1995.

The chum harvest is expected to be some 475,000 more fish than were caught in 2015 and the coho harvest likewise is expected to be about 556,000 more fish than a year ago.

How big the Chinook harvest will be is an unknown because of treaty allocations not reflected in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast. Smaller Chinook harvests are, however, expected in central and western Alaska fisheries this year.

Several factors play into prices at the docks for harvesters this year, including the strong value of the dollar in comparison to currencies of buyers and competitors, canned inventory still unsold, salmon harvested in Russian, Japan and Canada, and the impact of the red tide in Chile on salmon markets. Red tide is a harmful algal bloom, with large concentrations of toxic aquatic microorganisms.

Market observers note that sales of frozen sockeye salmon appear to be moving faster than at this time last year. Major retailers like Costco now have frozen fillets on salmon or other wild seafood for sale all year round.

The volume of canned salmon still is a concern, due to the volume unsold, and there are still problems in the market for salmon and salmon roe. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has been promoting the sale of more canned stocks by posting recipes at for mini-loaves, chowder and salmon salad sandwiches.

NOAA Tracks Predator-Prey Relationships

Two new federal fisheries databases are helping to track what Alaska marine fish species are eating and what’s eating them.

The goal is to make this diet data, collected in collaboration with the University of Washington for more than 35 years, easy for scientists worldwide to use in their own research, says Kerim Aydin, manager of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Resource Ecology and Ecosystem Modeling Program.

NOAA Fisheries announced the two programs this week, saying the food habit data is helping them better understand how ecosystems work, and to monitor fish populations that are difficult for research gear to sample.

Octopus, for example, are hard to catch in research trawl nets and other fishing gear, so it is challenging to determine the size of octopus populations and how well they are doing.

In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, cod consistently eat octopus, so researchers have examined cod stomachs from this area for over three decades and have ben able to estimate production and mortality rates of octopus and determine precautionary fishing limits for octopus in this region.
The Resource Ecology and Ecosystem Modeling Groundfish Diet Data Tool 
(, includes a database of every prey type found in stomachs of key marine fish species caught during NOAA research surveys in Alaska waters.

The Alaska Marine Ecosystem Considerations Database,, includes annually updated news about environmental and other conditions that may be affecting Alaska marine ecosystems, including the Eastern Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and the High Arctic.

The ecosystem database also includes detailed assessments of ecosystem condition and handy report cards that provide a snapshot of the status for a variety of ecosystem indicators such as predator abundance, seabird reproductive success, human socio-economic factors, plankton size and more.
“The possibilities for how these data may help advance science, resource management and classroom learning are limitless, Aydin said.

Another resource of interest is the Stomach Examiner’s Tool, an online tool for identifying Alaska prey including detailed photos of prey parts most often found in fish stomachs, is at

New Members to Join ASMI Meeting in Juneau

Two new seafood industry appointees will join the board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau on March 31, as the state’s top promoter of wild Alaska seafood hears reports on ASMI programs, communications and state budget issues.

Gov. Bill Walker earlier this week announced the appointments of Richard Riggs, chief executive officer of Silver Bay Seafoods, and Tom Enlow, president and chief executive officer of Unisea, to large processor seats on the board.

Enlow takes the seat vacated by Barry Collier, president of Peter Pan Seafoods, whose term has expired.

Riggs will serve through the end of June in the large processor seat vacated by Amy Humphries, former president and chief executive officer of Icicle Seafoods, who resigned. Humphries left Icicle to become chief financial officer for the Seattle-based dairy company Darigold.

Come June 30, Riggs’ seat, the harvester seat currently help by veteran Kevin Adams, the small processor seat currently filled by Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries, will be up for appointments by Walker.

The March ASMI board agenda includes a state of the state budget review from the McDowell Group. The board will also get updates on its food service, retail, communications, international program, sustainability program, seafood technical program and global food air program.
The meeting is open to the public and will be teleconferenced.

The call in number of 800-315-6338. The alternate call in number is 1-913-90409376 and the access code is 05684.

Processing Capacity Boosted for Bristol Bay

Twelve major processors of Bristol Bay’s salmon run say their intended purchases for 2016 total 35.5 million fish, which is about six million fish more than the forecast harvest of 29.5 million fish.

Responding to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game survey, they estimated a maximum daily processing capacity of 2.6 million fish per day, which could be sustained for some 17 days. State biologists cautioned that the salmon processing capacity estimated in their report is not guaranteed, nor is there an implied guarantee that all fishermen will have buyers for all of their salmon.

The ADF&G harvest forecast of 29.52 million fish, released last October, would be eight percent greater than the previous 10-year mean harvest, and 46 percent greater than the long-term mean harvest of 20.20 million fish.

The tendering fleet has a holding capacity of 39.1 million pounds, or approximately 6.8 million salmon. The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon processing capacity survey is an instrument that can be used to determine whether domestic processors have enough capacity to handle the expected harvest. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act provides the framework requirements that must be met before foreign processing ships are allowed into internal waters of the state. Should the governor of Alaska receive a request to bring in foreign processing ships to process salmon in Bristol Bay this year, information from this survey would be considered by the governor, along with other information, to determine whether those foreign vessel should be allowed to do so.

The Ugashik District is the only fishing district that the surveyed processors were asked about specifically, as that district can be underserved by processing capacity.

Of the 12 companies, 11 said they would provide tenders inside Bristol Bay waters.

Individual processor’s salmon capacities are protected as confidential information under Alaska statutes.

Surveyed processors were asked if their company intends to purchase sockeye salmon in the Ugashik District this year, and if so, would their company be purchasing more sockeye salmon that a year ago. Last year surveyed processors bought an aggregated 99.9 percent of the total Ugashik District red salmon harvest.

Of the 12 companies surveyed nine said they intend to operate in the Ugashik District in 2016 and four of those nine companies said they intend to purchase more salmon that last year.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mine Analysis Suggests Environmental Risks

A new analysis of four British Columbia mines in the transboundary region whose waters flow into the salmon-rich habitat of Southeast Alaska says these projects have failed to implement recommendations that could prevent another disaster.

The analysis was commissioned on behalf of 14 non-profit entities concerned about the potential environmental impact of these mines on wild salmon habitat, and written by Dave Chambers, an expert on the impacts of mining, and director of the Center for Science in Public Participation.

The document on tailings dam safety in British Columbia, in the aftermath of the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster of 2014, is online at

The concern, notes Chambers, is that a similar failure at a similar mine in the transboundary region could physically destroy, and chemically impact, spawning and rearing habitat both in British Columbia and Alaska that is critical to commercial, recreational, sport and subsistence fishing. Billions of dollars in fisheries, cultural heritage, and a way of life in southeast Alaska literally depend on the fish that come from these watersheds, he said.

The report assesses tailings dam designs at four mines in British Columbia in light of recommendations of an expert panel formed in the wake of the Mount Polley disaster to examine whether regulatory agencies are applying best available technology to reduce the risk of catastrophic tailings dam failures, and where they aren’t, if changes could be made to do so.

All four mines plan to use the same technologies that failed at Mount Polley: wet tailings at closure, rather than the dry tailings at closure recommended by the panel, and centerline tailings dam design, instead of the safer downstream design, he said.

Chambers concludes that in the case of the Red Chris copper mine, whose large dam with undrained tailings does not meet recommendations of the expert panel, the design cannot be altered because the mine was allowed to start operation. Design alteration is still possible for the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell, Schaft Creek and Galore Creek mines, but it is not clear that this will happen voluntarily, or that regulators will require such an analysis, he said.

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