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Fish Factor

Fishing Industry Highlights from 2005
By Laine Welch


January 02, 2006
Monday AM

Going into the New Year, commercial fishing in Alaska remains a vibrant industry that is the envy of every other fish producing country in the world.  Alaska's fisheries abundance is guarded with protective zeal by those entrusted with its care, and its management is regarded as a model for conservation and sustainability.  The robust stocks will continue to provide a solid foundation far into the future - even as Alaska's fisheries are being retooled to conform to the tough realities of changing times.
jpg Laine Welch

Here is a sampler of industry highlights from 2005, in no particular order or priority:

Fleet reduction is a major trend across the North Pacific and rationalization, restructuring and revitalization remained the buzz words of 2005.  Managers and policy makers continued to seek ways to winnow down the number of participants, both to protect the fishery resources and boost bottom lines.  

Alaska's salmon industry continued its slow rise from the ashes, brought about by its own good merit, millions of state and federal dollars, and unprecedented bad press about farmed fish.    The 2005 salmon harvest was the third largest on record, topping 206 million fish. The value of the catch was also up for the third year in a row, worth $295 million at the docks (up $23 million from 2004). 

A national poll revealed that 31 percent of Americans are concerned about mercury in seafood and are cutting back on the amount they eat. The poll added there is tremendous confusion about what seafoods contain mercury. A Harvard study countered that if fish consumption is reduced, there will be serious public health consequences, notably higher death rates from heart disease and stroke

The nation's new Food Pyramid watered down its original dietary guidelines that advised Americans to eat fish at least twice a week, instead treating it as an afterthought and listing it under the "meat and beans" section.  

Studies from around the world continued to tout the medical miracles stemming from the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, especially salmon. Sales of fish oil supplements in the U.S. climbed from $35 million ten years ago to $310 million in 2005. 

Americans ate a record 16.6 pounds of seafood per person - five ounces per week, or less than half of what is recommended by health professionals. In a national survey conducted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, 81 percent of the respondents said they want more seafood choices at their favorite fast food restaurants.     

The annual Symphony of Seafood's grand prize went to Orca Bay's Sockeye Salmon Fillets. The out of state venue shifted from Chicago to Las Vegas in 2006.

Alaska salmon became a part of NASCAR Nation. A Wild Alaska Salmon logo is emblazoned across a racing Porsche co-sponsored by10th & M Seafoods of Anchorage.               

The nation's top fishery managers called it "a great day" as the National Offshore Aquaculture Act was introduced to Congress in June.  

Country of origin labeling laws (COOL) went into effect for fish and shellfish at U.S. retail counters.  The labels tell consumers where their seafood comes from and whether it is wild or farmed. Alaskans were outraged that canned or pouched products were not included. 

Southeast salmon gillnetters got the jump on Copper River when, for the first time in almost 20 years, on May 2 the Stikine and Taku Rivers reopened for king salmon.

For the second time in decades, much of the Yukon's summer king salmon  was enjoyed in upscale U.S. eateries via the region's Kwik'Pak Fisheries. A small order of fresh Yukon kings fetched $273 per fish at the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.

The World Wildlife Fund launched an international Smart Gear contest which paid cash prizes for the best ideas to reduce bycatch in fisheries. There were no entries from Alaska.

Thirty-seven farm sites were approved for black cod on British Columbia's Vancouver Island. However, a report by the University of B.C. concluded that industrialized black cod farming is unlikely to deliver economic benefits to the province. 

Efforts by Alaska policy makers to create a limited entry plan for Gulf of Alaska groundfish (Senate Bill 113) went down in flames. 

A sting operation in New York revealed a huge mislabeling scam in which farmed salmon was being sold as fresh wild salmon. That prompted salmon producers in Cordova and the Aleutians East Borough to send their fish to market with tags telling customers it was the real deal. 

While most fishing regions of the state were promoting their own "brand" of red and king salmon, the Star of Kodiak group sang the praises of pinks in upscale restaurants in Washington, D.C.  Millions of cans of pink salmon from Bear and Wolf Processors in Cordova went for the first time to large chain stores throughout Korea.

McKie Campbell took the helm as Commissioner of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council got top marks from the Ocean Conservancy, based on its improvement in controlling over-fishing.

Alaska's fishing industry showed the lowest rate of wasted fish in the country, according to an Oceana study.  Officials credited the Bering Sea pollock fishery for its low bycatch rates of less than two percent

The NPFMC dumped its plan to implement quota shares of halibut for charter operators, and took the idea back to the drawing board.

Hearings were held in Anchorage, Kodiak and Ketchikan to gather input on the nation's primary fish law ­ the Magnuson Stevens Conservation and Management Act. The comments from Alaska will be used to shape U.S. fisheries policy for years to come.

A total of 505 applicants were issued quota shares for one or more of the Bering Sea's eight crab fisheries. Twenty five of those were processing companies; the others were vessel owners, skippers and some crew members.

The Bering Sea crab rationalization program was launched on schedule in the fall. The resulting number of lost jobs and impacts on marine businesses sent shock waves through coastal communities.

Shares of red king crab topped $30 per pound at quota brokerages.

Discovery Channel film crews again braved crab fishing in the Bering sea as part of its popular "Deadliest Catch" series. Discovery also took viewers along for the ride on rescue missions by the U.S. Coast Guard, featuring teams from Kodiak.

Alaska policy makers stalled and then continued their push to lift the state's ban on industrial mixing zones in waters where fish spawn. 

The University of Alaska/Anchorage launched a line of seafood business courses     available to all students via the Internet.

Seafood groups rallied to help their counterparts in areas ravaged by hurricane Katrina. They formed the Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission (AFIRM) at the urging of Senator Lisa Murkowski. The city of Valdez donated a 60 ton marine travel lift to help move stranded boats back to the fishing grounds.

A report by seafood buyers for top U.S. restaurants and supermarkets said well managed, sustainable fisheries will play an increasing role in corporate buying decisions.  

For the 16th year in a row, Dutch Harbor topped the list as the nation's #1 port for seafood landings (886.4 million pounds of fish and shellfish valued at $155 million).  



The year 2006 marks the 15th year that I have been writing this column which highlights news of Alaska's seafood industry. It began at the request of the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in a dozen papers and web sites.

Each year, I make selections on what I view as the most notable "fish liners:"

Biggest Fish Folly: Alaska's proposal to foul its fish streams by lifting the ban on mixing zones
Best fish movers & shakers:   The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Cook it Frozen campaign; Star of Kodiak for getting pink salmon into top restaurants in Washington DC
Biggest fish about face: The North Pacific Council's shift on halibut quota shares for charter operators.
Biggest fish dilemma ­ Dividing up groundfish catches in the Gulf of Alaska
Best fishcrat -Denby Lloyd, former and present state director of Commercial Fisheries
Best "it's about time" appointment: Patti Nelson of Kodiak, first female CommFish deputy director
Biggest fish blooper: Local hotels and restaurants that do not feature Alaska seafood
Best fish groupies ­ Kodiak-based crew members for organizing to fight for their stake of rationalized fisheries
Best new fish product: waterless transport for live fish by Bonifacio Comandante of the Phillipines. The process could cut shipping costs by 75 percent
Scariest fish story: Offshore aquaculture
Biggest fish flaps:  Senator Ben Stevens
Baddest fish attitude: see above
Worst fish pitch to the industry:
SB 113
Biggest Fish Story:  The Bering Sea's rationalized crab management plan. Time will tell..


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

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