SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Crew labor data; Cod goes green; Credit where it's due


January 12, 2010

The project that aims to collect labor data on Alaska deckhands is on track to come before the legislature this session.

As self-employed workers, roughly 20,000 crewmembers have fallen through the cracks in terms of basic data that show their economic importance to the industry.

"You can't really estimate the total economic impact of commercial fishing unless you know something about the earnings and employment patterns for the crew members who are such an important part of the work force, and we don't have any of that information," said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the state commercial fisheries division.

"The people who work as crew members on fishing boats are probably one of the only groups of laborers in Alaska that are not counted in some way by the state," said Jan Conitz, project director for ADF&G.

Bruce and Conitz are among a multi-agency and industry team that have worked for more than a year to develop a labor data collection program for deckhands in every Alaska fishery. A private contractor, Wostmann & Associates of Juneau, completed a feasibility report on three data collection options last month.

"There are three separate documents outlining all that needs to be done with systems to make data reporting possible under three different options selected by our advisory committees last spring," Conitz said. "They compared the options and looked at the feasibility and cost of each one, with recommendations about how we might go forward in developing the system."

Crew data could be collected by modifying existing e-landing reports or fish tickets. Conitz said actual implementation will be more difficult than anticipated.

"This project is unique because it has to work with a number of existing systems and not overturn or rock the boat with any of them. It has to fit in and that's where some of the difficulties rise," she explained. "Our contractor has said many times that 'one size does not fit all' because there is so much diversity in Alaska's fisheries."

Conitz said the contractor also has identified a number of changes and modifications that will help with other fisheries data collection, and make it possible for systems to work together and more efficiently than they do now.

The stakeholder and agency advisors will meet this week to select a preferred option that will be presented to Alaska lawmakers. The governor's draft budget includes $250,000 for the data collection project.

The program must be authorized by the legislature. The agency and stakeholder advisory committees will meet this week to finalize their recommendations to Alaska lawmakers.

"I wouldn't say whether a crew data collection will be developed," Conitz said, "just when."

Cod goes green

Alaska's cod fisheries are one week away from getting a coveted eco-label from the international Marine Stewardship Council. The bright blue MSC label assures customers their seafood purchases come from sustainably managed fisheries that are friendly to the environment. The MSC label has been the global leader in getting the market to recognize and support sustainable fisheries.

The Bering Sea cod longline fleet obtained the label years ago; now the rest of Alaska's cod harvesters aim to do the same.

"The final assessment report and action plan is posted on the MSC web site, and that starts a 15 day time clock. If no objections are filed, the fishery is certified," said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation which has herded the rigorous third-party assessment process for the Alaska cod industry since 2006.

The cost for the MSC certification has run about $240,000 - paid for with federal and private funding, as well as by the industry.

The eco-label includes eight separate certifications for four gear types - longline, trawl, pot and jig fisheries in both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. If any objections are filed against a sector, it will go into a 90 day hearing process. Browning said it will not derail the other fisheries.

"Those that don't get any objections filed will be certified at the end of the 15 days which is January 15. Just in time for those A season deliveries," Browning said.

Market estimates show eco-labeled codfish get a 3%-5% price premium over noncertified fish, although it depends on the market. More importantly, Browning said the label has become a necessary part of doing business.

"Many large, international buyers are now requiring third part certification of sustainability, and those doors would be closed to non certified fisheries," he said.

Cod is regarded as the most popular fish in the world. At a time when Atlantic stocks are depleted or rebuilding around the world, Browning said cod from Alaska is a natural replacement.

Cod fish will be in good company -- Alaska salmon, pollock, halibut and black cod already have the MSC label; flatfish and Bering Sea crab also are in the pipeline. Learn more at or .

Credit where it's due

There was some confusion about the source of the fish that was flown last week to Kotzebue by the Coast Guard. The 27,000 pounds of coho salmon fillets was donated by the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association.

"The chain of other donors is long, but it would not have been possible without the original donation made by the fishermen in Southeast Alaska, said Jim Harmon, director of SeaShare.

SeaShare is a non-profit organization that has become one of the largest sources of protein to food banks nationwide. SeaShare worked with the Food Bank of Alaska to donate over 125,000 pounds of seafood in Alaska last year. .


This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off - Fish Radio - airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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