SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Summer isn't Alaska's only "fishing season"
By Laine Welch


January 06, 2007

Salmon will always be the heart of Alaska's fisheries, and that is why many people think of summer as "the fishing season."

But that's not the case.

Winter is when Alaska's largest fisheries get underway each year. On January 1, hundreds of boats with hook and line gear or pots will begin plying the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for Pacific cod, rockfish and other groundfish. Then on January 20th trawlers take to the seas to target Alaska pollock, the world's largest food fishery with annual harvests topping three billion pounds. Crab boats will soon be out on the Bering Sea in earnest for snow crab, Alaska's largest crab fishery. Late February or early March will see the start of the eight month long halibut and sablefish seasons. March also marks the beginning of Alaska's roe herring circuit, usually at Sitka Sound, and those fisheries will continue for several months all the way up the coast as far west as Norton Sound.

And although wild Alaska king salmon is available from Southeast trollers nearly year round, mid-May marks the official start of Alaska's salmon season with the runs of kings and reds at Copper River. Salmon fisheries take center stage all summer and into the fall. That's followed by another of Alaska's premier fisheries - red king crab from Bristol Bay. And so it goes throughout each year, with many other smaller fisheries occurring as well. In all, more than five billion pounds of seafood crosses Alaska's docks each year, worth more than $1 billion at the docks.

Peeking at some price trends, whitefish prices, especially cod, reached their highest level in years in 2006. The jump stemmed from an increase in global demand, especially in Europe; price boosts were also prompted by widespread publicity about the health benefits of eating seafood. Market watchers predict that unless there is a big disruption in supply for major species, of which none is predicted, fish prices this year should remain stable or begin to decline slightly. Analyst John Sackton says buyer resistance to high prices is likely in the U.S. where a weakened dollar will make it more difficult to compete for seafood on the global market.

Biggest buzz word

'Sustainable' was selected as the top word for 2006 by global language trackers, who define it to mean 'self generating, the opposite of disposable.'

The word, long considered a 'green' term, has moved into the mainstream, said the San Diego based Global Language Monitor, which tracks language trends the world over, with a particular emphasis on global English. "Sustainable can apply to populations, marriages, agriculture, economies, and the like", the GLM said.

The term is often applied to Alaska's fisheries, most of which are regarded as models for good management. Alaska salmon, pollock, halibut and sablefish are 'certified' as being well managed, and cod and crab could soon merit an 'earth friendly' eco-label as well. It comes at a fortunate time for Alaska's seafood industry, as mega corporations like Wal-Mart and others the world over have pledged to only purchase seafood that comes from well managed fisheries.

Along with sustainable, words like 'organic' and 'local' will continue to be the biggest buzzwords, say food forecasters. In the coming year we'll hear more about 'foods with a conscience', like fair trade chocolates and coffees.

It's tea that's drawing the attention of seafood lovers in Germany. Intrafish reports the seafood industry has teamed with the Berlin-based German Tea Association to tout tea as an ingredient in fish based meals. The group has printed and distributed thousands of recipe booklets. They say the various blends of tea work best with whitefish or shrimp dishes. "After initially being greeted with skepticism, the tea and seafood based recipes are winning raves from German chefs,' Intrafish said.

[The GLM selected 'stay the course' as the top phrase for 2006. It also listed Darfur, the war torn region of Sudan, as the top name of the year. The most frequently used English word on the planet is 'Ok.' ( <> )]

Symphony of Seafood in Seattle and Anchorage

Eighteen new Alaska seafood products will be unveiled at the 2007 Symphony of Seafood later this month in Seattle. The products will be judged in three categories: retail, smoked and food service.

This year's line up includes the usual mix of familiar and unusual seafood items, said Capt. Bob Pawlowski, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation which hosts the popular annual event. Some notables: smoked Yukon chum salmon fillet in a shelf-ready pouch, soy flavored caviar, pickled pollock, Alaska salmon and pollock chowder, and wild Alaska halibut with blue cheese butter and hazelnut crust.

The Symphony always attracts creative entries from some of the largest seafood companies to some of Alaska's smallest and most remote. Last year, for example, Boreal Fisheries of St. Mary's and Yukon King Seafoods from Marshall, AK took top honors for their smoked Yukon king salmon products. Both are entered in the seafood contest again this year.

"It allows us to show that value added products are being produced in small Alaska communities. It also shows that we have the distribution and transportation networks that can get these terrific, healthy products to markets anywhere in the nation and the world," Pawlowski said.

Winners will be chosen Jan. 25 at the Odyssey Maritime Center in Seattle. The results will be kept secret until the Symphony of Seafood returns home to Anchorage on Feb. 17. Top winners in each of the three categories get a free trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in mid-March. ( )

Clones ok

It's been debated for decades, but scientists with the Food and Drug Administration announced last week that meat and milk from cloned animals is no different from the real thing. And because cloned animals are virtually indistinguishable from conventional livestock, the FDA says no special labeling is required when the new bio-engineered foods hit U.S. grocery counters.

Many consumer groups, however, believe the verdict is still out on the safety and ethics of food from cloned animals. They claim labels are a must because national surveys show 64 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with food from cloned animals.

Cloning lets farmers or ranchers make copies of exceptional animals, such as pigs that fatten rapidly or cows that are superior milk producers. The technology also applies to fish. For more than ten years a company called Aqua Bounty has been bio-engineering salmon that grow up to 600 times faster than normal, and are ready for market in 18 months instead of the usual three years. Aqua Bounty, which operates labs and hatcheries in the U.S. and Canada, hopes to be the first fish company to get its 'frankenfish" approved by the FDA. The company speculates its fish will be available to customers in 2009.

Company director Elliot Entis said Aqua Bounty has changed one gene in its fish so they use their own growth hormone more efficiently. The salmon contain an extra gene from ocean pout so they grow twice as fast. The fish also have increased tolerance to cold, are more disease resistant, and are neutered to prevent inbreeding with wild stocks.

Meanwhile, final FDA approval of cloned animals of any kind is months away. The FDA will accept public comments for the next three months.


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska