Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Scientists Bracing for the New Climate Frontier

Rapid changes in the environment brought on by warming temperatures and increasing ocean acidification are prompting new direction in research, say scientists who addressed the 2020 Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Everything is new,” said Cisco Werner, chief science advisor to NOAA Fisheries, in his presentation to dozens of participants gathered to hear his keynote speech at the Hotel Captain Cook on Jan. 27. “We need to be ready and prepared to deal with surprises, to sample, count and make decisions differently.”

Fifteen to 20 years ago scientists were trying to figure out how physical and biological linkages worked, how physics and marine ecosystems come together, he said. Today they are working with new technologies, autonomous unmanned surface vehicles, artificial intelligence and omics, which are novel, comprehensive approaches for analysis of complete genetic or molecular profiles of humans and other organisms. In contrast to genetics, which focus on single genes, genomics focus on all genes (genomes) and their inter-relationships.

“The last comprehensive evaluation of our surveys was the 1998 NOAA Fisheries Data Acquisition Plan,” Werner told fellow scientists, students and fishing industry participants in the symposium organized annually by the North Pacific Research Board. “There is a need to revisit this data collection to include ecosystem considerations, partnerships with industry and communities, new technologies and new analytical capabilities,” he said.

Average surface ocean pH has decreased 0.1 units below the pre-industrial average and is expected to further decrease by 0.13 to 0.42 units by 2100, and marine heat waves have become longer, he explained.

Werner, one of four keynote speakers at this year’s symposium, is leading National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) efforts to provide the science that will be needed to support sustainable fisheries and ecosystems, end overfishing, rebuild fish populations, save critical species and preserve vital habitats. He supervises the planning, development and management of a multidisciplinary scientific enterprise of basic and applied research. He also oversees NMFS’ science centers and Office of Science and Technology.

Werner’s talk touched on several topics, from changes in the structure of the food web, including changes in the composition of zooplankton, to the warming Blob, which had an adverse impact on waters of the North Pacific between 2014 and 2016. “If scientists could accurately forecast the Blob, how would they use this information?” he asked. “We have to manage for variability, not stability, which is key to adaptation.”

Sockeye Forecast Down for Copper River, Upper Cook Inlet

A total run of 1.4 million sockeye salmon, along with 60,000 Chinooks, are expected to return to the Copper River in 2020, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

The state forecast released on Jan. 28 compared with the recent 10-year average (2010-2019) of 2.1 million wild sockeyes returning to the Copper River, along with 48,000 kings. If these runs come in as forecasted, the sockeye run would be 32.7 percent below average, while the king run would be 20 percent above average.

State biologists also predicted a Gulkana Hatchery sockeye salmon run of 109,000 fish, which would be 62.3 percent below average, still bringing the total Copper River red salmon returns to 1.5 million fish, with a harvest of 771,000 reds. Scientists are estimating a common property harvest of kings at 36,000 fish.

Biologists were also pointed out that salmon forecasts are inherently uncertain and are primarily used to gauge the magnitude of expected runs and set early-season harvest management strategy.

In 2020, the department will continue to manage Prince William Sound area commercial salmon fisheries in-season based on the strength of salmon abundance indices including sonar counts, weir passage, aerial escapement surveys and fishery performance data, they said.

ADF&G also forecast Prince William Sound runs of 4.4 million pink salmon, with a range of 1.2 million to 16.3 million, which would be 18.8 percent above average. They estimate a chum salmon run of 604,000 fish, with a range of 342,000 to 865,000, which would be 18.9 percent above average.

For Upper Cook Inlet, state fisheries biologists are predicting a run of 4.3 million sockeye salmon, considerably below the 20-year run average of 5.9 million fish, with a potential commercial harvest of 2.3 million reds.

In 2019 commercial harvesters caught 1.7 million sockeyes, which was 1.3 million less than the preseason forecast of 3.0 million fish.

Major sockeye salmon streams in Upper Cook Inlet are the Kenai, Kasilof and Susitna rivers and Fish Creek. The /ADF&G is predicting a run of 2.2 million for the Kenai River, 38 percent less than the 20-year average of 3.6 million, and 723,000, 26 percent less than the 20-year average of 971,000 for the Kasilof. It also expects 571,000 for the Susitna, which is 49 percent greater than the 20-year average for the Susitna. For Fish Creek, the run forecast is 121,000 reds, which is 42 percent greater than the 20-year average of 86,000.

“Temperature controls everything and salmon are sensitive at certain life stages critical to them,” noted Bob DeCino, an area research biologist for ADF&G at Soldotna, who issued the forecast on Jan. 28. “When we get a really warm north Gulf of Alaska it will affect the run timing for the fish in Upper Cook Inlet. They come in later.”

The Upper Cook Inlet forecast also includes a prediction of commercial harvests of 6,900 Chinook, 74,000 pink, 175,000 chum and 203,000 coho salmon.

Omega3-Rich Cod Skins Have Medical Uses

Omega3 rich Atlantic cod skins from wild Icelandic cod, the outgrowth of an Icelandic research project, are helping medical doctors treat burns, chronic skin wounds, hernia and dura repairs and reinforcement of gastrointestinal stapled incisions.

The full-thickness wild cod meshed skin grafts, gently processed by Kerecis, in Isafjordur, Iceland, 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle, have been successfully used to date to treat both people and an array of animals ranging from dogs, horses, turkeys, turtles to llamas.

Kerecis’ stated mission is “to extend life by supporting the body’s own ability to regenerate.”

The product itself, which has a shelf life of five years, is processed fish dermal matrix composed of fish collagen and is supplied as a sterile intact, or meshed sheet, ranging in size from 3 x 3.5 cm and 3 x 7 cm to 7 x 10 cm.

Currently Kerecis, which began commercial operations in 2013, is in discussion with medical personnel in Australia, and working with animal organizations also in Australia, to help koalas and kangaroos injured in devastating forest fires plaguing that nation.

A spokesperson for the company, Kay Paumier in Campbell, Calif., said that Kerecis shipped 500 units of Kerecis Omega3 Burn to New Zealand in the wake of the Dec. 9, 2019 volcano eruption on White Island, along with Kerecis medical director Dr. Hilmar Kjartansson who trained doctors in how to use the processed skins.

Kerecis has also donated several grafts to charitable veterinary cases based on the need of the animal, including an 18-month-old female Rottweiler named Stella, who was treated at the veterinary hospital at Michigan State University for extensive burns and lung injuries suffered in a house fire, which required a different kind of treatment. Doctors at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine said Stella’s case offered proof that further investigations into using an acellular fish skin omega-3 rich graft should be undertaken in dogs with open wound healing. Placement of this product does not require anesthesia and can be used in cases where there is concern for respiratory stability, as was the case with Steller, who made a complete recovery.

Kerecis uses North Atlantic cod fish (Gadus Morhua), which is in ample supply in Iceland. Paumier noted that the fish is sustainably harvested in pristine waters and comes from a supply chain that uses every part of the fish. The manufacturing process of medical-grade fish skin uses only green energy. “As the business expands, we are constantly reviewing options for providing raw materials and will look to multiple locations based on the market need,” she said. Kerecis holds patents for the medical use of fish skin regardless of the type of fish. “We are constantly evaluating new ways to bring innovative products to market. We actively pursue research and product-development initiatives to increase our source material and applicability of our sustainable approach to healing through the power of fish skin.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Seafood Added $5.6B to Alaska Economy in 2017–2018

Alaska’s seafood industry added $5.6 billion in economic output to the state economy in 2017–2018, employing nearly 59,000 workers in harvesting, processing and other industry-related jobs who earned a combined $1.7 billion in wages.

The 29,400 commercial fishermen employed in harvesting fish in each of those year came away with earnings of more than $1 billion.

The 5.7 billion pounds of seafood worth $2 billion that was harvested annually in those years was turned by processors into 2.8 billion pounds of seafood product worth $4.7 billion. Exports of about two thirds of Alaska seafood, in sales value for 2018, went to 97 countries, while the other third was purchased domestically.

The processing sector employs an average of 26,000 workers at 166 shore-based plants, 49 catcher-processor vessels and about 10 large floating processors. The industry also supports more than 40 different occupations, including vessel builders, shipyard workers, machinists, engineers, electricians, cooks and laborers.

In fact, the seafood industry directly employs more workers than any other private sector industry in Alaska and is the foundation of many rural communities.

The national economic impact of the Alaska’s seafood industry includes $8.0 billion in multiplier effects generated as industry income circulates throughout the country economy.

The study, prepared by McDowell Group in Juneau, Alaska, is the latest report on the economic value of the state’s seafood industry. The group compiled the report with consideration only for the commercial seafood industry and does not account for the additional multi-million-dollar economic impact of recreational, charter and subsistence fisheries in Alaska. It was prepared for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a public-private partnership of the state and the seafood industry. According to the report, the state’s commercial fleet includes more than 9,000 vessels, which if lined up bow to stern, would span over 64 miles. Regardless of vessel size or involvement, each fishing operation represents a business generating new income from a renewable resource.

Since statehood in 1959, Alaska’s commercial fisheries have produced more than 181 billion pounds of seafood, or 12.9 billing servings annually, enough to feed everyone in the world at least one serving each year.

Regional economic trends in the seafood industry documented by the report show that the number of resident commercial fishermen has declined from 3,489 in 2012 to 2,590 in 2018, while the gross earnings of those harvesters rose from $19 million to $20 million. The value of regional harvests rose from $11 million to $13 million and first wholesale value rose from $13 million to $17 million for those years.

Alaska Marine Science Symposium Opens Jan. 27 in Anchorage

The annual Alaska Marine Science Symposium, which brings together scientists, educators, resource managers and others, opens Jan. 27, with presentations about the latest research in Alaska’s marine ecosystems.

The conference, presented at the Captain Cook Hotel, will open with presentations by four keynote speakers, followed by three days of meetings focused on the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and the Arctic respectively. Research topics on the agenda range from ocean physics, fishes and invertebrates to seabirds, marine mammals and local traditional knowledge. The event is sponsored by the North Pacific Research Board.

This year’s keynote speakers include Western Arctic Parklands superintendent Maija Katak Lukin; Cisco Werner, chief science advisor to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Sebastien de Halleux, chief operations officer of Saildrone; and Andrew Pietruszka, an underwater archaeologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

A workshop on the opening day of the symposium will be led by Brian Brettschneider, an expert on climate science in Alaska who generates seasonal sea ice forecasts for the International Arctic Research Center. His presentation will focus on how to effectively use social media to deliver scientific content. Brettschneider, one of Alaska’s esteemed climatologists, has a social media following of over 16,000 people. His workshop is free and space is not limited. It will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the Captain Cook.

NOAA Fisheries research biologist Steve Barbeaux, will talk about heatwaves and their impact on Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska during the Tuesday afternoon session.

Also, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the symposium will sponsor an ocean acidification town hall, with five-minute updates from ocean acidification researchers ranging from open ocean and nearshore monitoring to species response in the lab. A question and answer session will follow.

The agenda and abstract book for all four days is now posted online at

Today is the deadline for online registration. You can find the form at

AK Board of Fisheries Cuts Kodiak’s Salmon Allocation

This past week, the Alaska Board of Fisheries set new limits on commercial salmon harvests for the Kodiak area.

The Cape Igvak salmon management plan, proposal 60, called for a reduction of the Cape Igvak section allocation from 15 percent to five percent of the total Chignik area sockeye salmon catch. Proposal 64 amended management plans to restrict the commercial seine fishery from June 28 through July 25. Both proposals passed following a 4-1 vote.

Kodiak Salmon work group chairman Duncan Fields, a veteran harvester and former member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, told Kodiak public radio station KMXT that in dollar terms the passage of those proposals will cost Kodiak $2 million to $3 million annually. Fields also expressed concern that the fisheries board didn’t seem swayed by testimony from Kodiak fishermen who packed the standing-room only meeting to speak in defense of their fishery.

A number of those who testified noted that the Cape Igvak plan currently in place doesn’t allow Kodiak harvesters to fish until Chignik has received a certain number of salmon and during Chignik’s most disastrous recent years, Kodiak fishermen didn’t fish Cape Igvak.

The decision on the proposals came to a 4-1 vote because board member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham was absent and board member Gerad Godfrey of Eagle River had to recuse himself, because his uncle hold a Kodiak district seine permit.

In a letter to board chairman Reed Morisky prior to the vote, Fields said the work group challenged board member Marit Carlson-Van Dort’s ethics disclosure statement, which said there were no interests of a personal or financial nature that she or any members of her immediate family have that may be affected by the proposals before the board.

Fields said the work group had learned that Carlson-Van Dort has first, second and third cousins who hold Chignik District salmon seine permits and that the work group found it difficult to believe that none of her relatives would be personally or financially impacted by those proposals.

A summary of all proposal actions taken at the Kodiak meeting is available online at
The fisheries board will take up Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues at its Anchorage meeting slated for Feb. 7-19 and statewide king and tanner crab and supplemental issues on March 8-11. Details on proposals to be covered at those meetings and how to participate can be found online at

Fishing Vessel Drill Conductor Training Coming to Petersburg, Alaska

Commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska can learn or refresh their skills in fishing vessel safety with a fishing vessel drill conductor class being offered in Petersburg on Feb. 10 at the Tides Inn.

The class offers an excellent opportunity for commercial harvesters and others to get hands-on training with marine safety equipment and learn best practices for surviving emergencies at sea.

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) is offering the class at a cost of $95 for commercial fishermen and $175 for all others. The association is able to provide the reduced price thanks to support from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, and AMSEA members.

The curriculum from instructor Chris Angel includes cold-water survival skills, EPIRBS (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), signal flares, and mayday calls, man-overboard recovery, firefighting, flooding and damage control, dewatering pumps, immersion suits and PFDs, helicopter rescue, life rafts, abandon ship procedures and emergency drills.

All AMSEA fishing vessel drill conductor workshops meet the US Coast Guard training requirements or drill conductors on commercial fishing vessels.

Register online at or call 907-747-3287. Check the website for a complete list of upcoming AMSEA courses, including additional fishing vessel drill conductor training and first aid and CPR/AED classes.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Senate Approves Bill to Save Seas from Plastics

The US Senate has unanimously approved the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, addressing the plastic debris crisis threatening coastal economies and marine life.

The legislation, introduced by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has 17 Senate co-sponsors, including Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, both D-Hawaii.

Supporters of the companion legislation still moving through the US House include Representatives Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Don Young, R-Alaska, co-chairs of the House Oceans Caucus.

Save Our Seas 2.0 builds on the success of the 2018 Save Our Seas Act. It is composed of three main components.

The first part aims to strengthen the nation’s domestic marine debris response capability with a Marine Debris Foundation, a genius prize for innovation, and new research to tackle and reduce marine debris. The legislation calls for a prize of at least $100,000 each time in competition to be held every other year for a decade.

The second piece aims to enhance global engagement to combat marine debris, including formalizing US policy on international cooperation, enhancing federal agency outreach to other countries, and exploring potential for a new international agreement on the challenge. This component would increase the authorization for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program annual budget from $10 million to $15 million.

The third component calls for improving domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris through new grants for and studies of waste management and mitigation. The accompanying financial package of $85 million a year for five years would establish four grant programs to improve the water and waste management infrastructure in the US.

Ocean Conservancy spokesman Jeff Watters cited the bill for taking a science-based approach to tackle ocean plastics pollution and for setting the stage for more ambitious action to come.

The bill “rightly recognizes the global nature of the ocean plastics crisis, proposes badly needed improvements to both domestic and international waste management and recycling systems, and supports more research to better understand the problem and what interventions would be most effective,” he said.

Decisions Expected Today at Kodiak Board of Fisheries Meeting

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is expected to make its decisions known today, Jan. 15, on a number of finfish proposals following three days of debates in standing room only meeting at the Kodiak convention center.

The 37 agenda items include proposals submitted by United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA) urging restriction of commercial salmon fisheries in the Kodiak area to limit interception of fish that UCIDA contends are stocks headed for Upper Cook Inlet.

Kodiak harvests dispute this claim. Duncan Fields, who chairs the Kodiak Salmon Work Group, noted that the restrictions proposed by UCIDA would limit July harvests of sockeyes bound for Upper Cook Inlet and restrict some commercial seine fishing in the Kodiak Management area to conserve Chinook stocks.

Fields warned the Kodiak Island Borough in a letter sent last September that these proposals would pose a serious threat to Kodiak’s historical salmon fishery and could reduce Kodiak salmon fishermen revenue by as much as 35 to 40 percent.

UCIDA maintains that recent genetic data shows that the Kodiak salmon fishery intercepts sockeye salmon bound for Upper Cook Inlet and it is reasonable to require Kodiak to reel back on Upper Cook Inlet reds at least in nonterminal fisheries. Fields counters that “it seems a fool’s errand to put additional closures in the Kodiak area based on random occurrences both year by year and place by place.”

All meeting documents, including on-time public comments in support and opposition to the various proposals, are available online at

All portions of the Kodiak meeting are open to the public and a live audio stream is available on the board’s website at

Optimism Up on Demand and Prices for Snow Crab

In a year when Bering Sea crab are continuing to rebound – prompting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to boost the quota for a third straight year –strong demand in domestic markets is expected to command robust pricing.

“The demand is so strong for snow crab that even though there is more Alaska snow crab we expect the prices to be higher than last year,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange in Seattle, Wash. “People want crab, so they are willing to pay for it.”

The primary demand for Alaska snow crab comes from US domestic markets and Japan. Actual prices are usually negotiated before season closures in June.

Snow crab, known for its sweet taste and delicate texture, is sold fully cooked and ready to eat, served hot or cold in a variety of entrees. In Anchorage in mid-January, five pounds of Alaskan snow crab legs sold for approximately $180 at 10th & M Seafoods’ two shops, and online seafood purveyor FishEx had it listed for $205. Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Wash., was offering snow crab legs by the pound at $26.99.

The Canadian snow crab fishery is reported to be at an all-time high moving into 2020, feeding what the marketing group Urner Barry describes as a seemingly insatiable demand for the succulent shellfish.

There is also a strong demand from China for Russian and Canadian snow crab, Jacobsen said. Some Canadian crab goes to China, although most of it finds its way to US markets, while most of the Russian crab goes to China, he explained.

The fishery officially opened on Oct. 15 in Alaska with a quota of 34,019,000 pounds, up from 27,581,000 pounds in 2018 and 18,961,000 pounds in 2017. Holders of individual fishing quota permits received 30,617,000 pounds. Community development quota was set at 3,410,900 pounds.

UW Analysis Concludes Fisheries Management is Working

An international project led by University of Washington researchers concludes that fish stocks are increasing in many areas of the world, thanks to effective management.

The project built on a decade-long international collaboration to assemble estimates of the status of fish stocks, or distinct populations of fish, around the world.

“There is a narrative that fish stocks are declining around the world, that fisheries management is failing and we need new solutions – and it’s totally wrong,” said Ray Hilborn, the lead author of the study and a professor at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

“Fish stocks are not all declining around the world. They are increasing in many places, and we already know how to solve problems through effective fisheries management.”

The aim of the project was to keep scientists and fisheries managers informed on where overfishing is happening, or where some areas could support even more fishing.

Results of the study were published on Jan. 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team’s database now includes information on nearly half of the world’s fish harvest, up from approximately 20 percent compiled in the last effort in 2009.

“The key is, we want to know how well we are doing, where we need to improve, and what the problems are,” Hilburn said. “Given that most countries are trying to provide long-term sustainable yield of their fisheries, we want to know where we are overfishing, and where there is potential for more yield in places we’re not fully exploiting.”

The team has spent the past decade working with collaborators worldwide, inputting data on some 880 fish populations from the Mediterranean, Peru, Chile, Russia and Japan to northwest Africa. They acknowledge they do not have scientific estimates of the health and status of most fish stocks in South Asia and southeast Asia. Fisheries in India, Indonesia and China alone represent 30 to 40 percent of the worldwide fish catch and they are essentially unassessed.

Co-author Ana Parma, a principal scientist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, said there are still big gaps in the data that are more difficult to fill.

“This is because the available information on smaller fisheries is more scattered, has not been standardized and is harder to collate, or because fisheries in many regions are not regularly monitored,” she said.

Pairing information about fish stocks with recently published data on fisheries management activities in about 30 countries, the analysis concluded that more intense management led to healthy or improved fish stocks, while little to no management resulted in overfishing or poor stock status.

Fisheries management should be tailored to fit characteristic of different fisheries and the needs of specific countries and regions for it to be successful, study authors said. “Approaches that have been effective in many large-scale industrial fisheries in developed countries can’t be expected to work for small-scale fisheries, especially in regions with limited economic and technical resources and weak governance systems,” Parma said.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Alaska BOF Has Full Agenda of Crab Issues

Proposals highlighting a number of statewide king and tanner crab issues for Prince William Sound, Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula, Westward areas, the Aleutian Islands and Norton Sound will be under consideration when the Alaska Board of Fisheries meets on March 8–11 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU) are urging the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to develop a harvest strategy that incorporates commercial catch per unit effort and introduce a commercial king crab fishery in Prince William Sound northern and western districts.

The CDFU proposal notes that harvesters in the Prince William Sound Tanner crab fishery are reporting extremely high levels of king crab abundance, of over 80 crab in some pots, yet are not able to retain any under the current commissioner’s permit.

In Cook Inlet, ADF&G is proposing to amend commercial and noncommercial thresholds, and management based on thresholds for Tanner crab fisheries. ADF&G noted in its proposal that while the legal size for Tanner crab in the Cook Inlet area had been reduced from 5.5 inches to 4.5 inches, the abundance thresholds for commercial and noncommercial fisheries were not updated to reflect the new reduced legal size.

For the Kodiak area, the fisheries board is asked to consider a proposal to change the opening date for Kodiak Tanner crab from Jan. 15 to Dec. 15 because the Pacific cod A season normally opens for pot and longline fisheries on Jan. 1, and boats participating in both fisheries have less opportunity to fish cod. Another Kodiak area proposal calls for aligning pot storage requirements to allow for storage in waters more than 25 fathoms for seven days following season closure for Tanner crab. Increasing the allowed storage time for unbaited gear from 72 hours to seven days would allow a more reasonable time to go back and get remaining gear, wrote harvester Oliver Holm, who submitted that proposal.

For the Chignik area, the creation of a separate commercial king crab fishery has been proposed which would have the same area boundaries as those used in the commercial salmon fishery. “The Chignik area has different boundaries in the king crab fishery when compared to salmon boundaries and those boundaries should be uniform for all fisheries,” said veteran harvester Axel Kopun who submitted the proposal.

For the Bering Sea district, ADF&G supports adopting a new Tanner crab harvest strategy, noting that the Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab stock is characterized by highly variable and episodic recruitment leading to substantial changes in annual abundance levels. The current Bering Sea Tanner crab harvest strategy was established in 1999 and requires minimum abundance threshold levels for both mature male and female crab to be met before the fishery can occur. In recent years the fishery has been closed or allowed at reduced harvest rates based on low female abundance. The recommended harvest strategy is expected to reduce probability of closures, allow for best application of population estimates and improve yield and stability for stakeholders.

New Contractor Hired to Upgrade Troubled VHF Sites

Plans are now in place with an Alaska-based contractor to replace the 203 power generators at Coast Guard VHF sites across Alaska by 2023. Until then mariners will need backup support for VHF Channel 16.

Even when those sites appear to be working “we always recommend carrying multiple means of communication,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Lyle Kessler, external affairs officer for the Coast Guard 17th District.

When the no-bid contract with Virginia-based Lynxnet LLC., a subsidiary of NANA Regional Corp. in Kotzebue, Alaska, expired in December, it was not renewed. The new $8.5 million contract went to Silver Mountain Construction, a Palmer, Alaska firm owned by Cook Inlet Region, Inc. “This was done through a non-competitive process to make sure there was no interruption of service,” Kessler said.

Kessler noted that power generation has been the main issue at the remote VHF sites. Once the generators are replaced communications are expected to improve substantially. Most of these sites are in remote, mountainous areas reachable only by helicopter and are covered with snow during the winter months.

The new contract with Silver Mountain Construction allows for some streamlining, so that maintenance and repair can happen simultaneously, but replacement of the generators is the long-term solution, according to Kessler.

Meanwhile a real benefit to mariners in Alaska is the communications assets provided by the non-profit Marine Exchange of Alaska, which since 2004 has been building and operating one of the largest vessel tracking systems in the world.

Information on vessel locations is provided to the Coast Guard and others in Alaska and the international maritime community to aid safe, efficient and environmentally sound maritime operations. The information is compiled, displayed and monitored at MXAK’s around the clock operations center in Juneau. Alaska. Watchstanders alert the Coast Guard, owners and operators, and responders when the system indicates problems such as a vessel losing power, incurring a casualty, or entering areas to be avoided. MXAK has also worked with partner marine exchanges to expand this communications system to other areas of the Pacific. “AIS (automatic identification system) is like an airplane transponder,” said Ed Page, executive director of MXAK. “Vessels over 65 feet long are required to have this transponder and every few seconds it sends a position report.” That report includes the name of the vessel, its course and speed.

AIS is financed by those who access the system, so they can coordinate vessels and be more efficient. “It also influences the behavior of big ships, knowing they are being watched,” Page added.

An informational video about AIS is available on the MXAK website at

ComFish Alaska 2020 Set for March 26–28

“Sea What Matters” is the theme of ComFish Alaska 2020, the largest and longest running commercial fisheries trade show and forums in the state of Alaska. The event is organized annually by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce.

Sarah Phillips, the chamber executive director, advises those interested in the event to keep checking the website for updates as specific details on forums and speakers will be posted as soon as they become available.

The big addition to this year’s ComFish program is that organizers will be recording all the forums and will uploaded them to the website following the event. While the chamber is unable to provide live broadcasts, “we want to make sure that ComFish stays digital all year long,” Phillips said.

More than a dozen of the 36 spots available at the trade show have already been booked by commercial firms such as Pacific Boat Brokers, Petro Marine and Ravn Air, environmental entities like the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, and government agencies like NOAA Fisheries Kodiak Lab and the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

This year’s sponsors include the Best Western Kodiak Inn, the Kodiak Daily Mirror, Lynden Transport, Worldwide Movers, Alaska Airlines, Alaska Aerospace, KVOK/Hot 1011, the Lions Club, Matson, Koniag Inc. and Kodiak Furniture.

The annual gathering brings together a range of participants from the commercial fishing industry, including harvesters and processors, as well as equipment, technology and gear manufacturers. Forums are organized to discuss topics of importance, ranging from environmental and political issues to the latest technology on vessel safety and fisheries related issues at the state and federal level.

ComFish organizers are encouraging those planning to attend to register in advance for the opportunity to win prizes, access bonus material online and get the most updated information about ComFish all year long.

Visit for more details.

Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery GHL Doubles for 2020

A guideline harvest level (GHL) for the 2020 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery has been set to 25,824 tons by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), more than double the 2019 GHL of 12,869 tons, but market conditions are still questionable.

“ADF&G is all about opportunities, and if a portion of the biomass can be harvested and sold, we will offer the opportunity,” said Eric Coonradt, a state fisheries biologist in Sitka, Alaska. “We are going to gear up for a fishery and if the industry decides they don’t want to or if they do want to, that will steer us in the direction we will go. At this point in time the market is questionable,” he added. “We don’t open a fishery unless someone is willing to buy the fish we test. The processors tell us if they want them.”

If the Canadian market doesn’t harvest at all or at a minimum, there may be a market for smaller roe herring in Sitka bought and processed by Sitka Sound, Silver Bay, Icicle Petersburg Fisheries Inc., Trident, Alaska General and Icy Strait Seafoods.

Last year seven processors showed up, but the quality they wanted wasn’t there.

“We weren’t able to find a body of fish that fit that marketable range. They were looking at 120 grams on average and up to 12 percent mature roe. The largest herring we tested was 110 grams and barely making it to 11 percent roe,” he said. “This year we are looking at almost twice as many entering the mature population.”

In 2017, fishermen harvested just shy of 14,000 tons of herring, all of which was sold.

The 2020 GHL was calculated by reducing the age structure analysis derived GHL by 39 percent, which approximates the harvest level available if the number of age-4 fish is half of that protected, state officials said Dec. 23. This precautionary approach considers the higher than usual uncertainty in the size of the return of the age-4 herring. The size of the forecasted 2020 age-4 cohort is extremely high and has more uncertainty due to its dependence on the number of age-3 fish estimated by modeling in 2019, maturity rate and estimate of survival for this unprecedented large age class.

The forecast itself is larger than the estimated 2019 mature biomass of 130,738 tons and greater than any forecast previously estimated for Sitka Sound herring, state biologists said. The 2020 Age Structure Analysist of mature herring biomass is 2112,330 tons. Large proportions of age-3 fish were also observed in other herring populations in the Gulf of Alaska in 2019.

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