SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Fish Bills; IFQ survey; and Seafood indicators


January 25, 2010

As the Alaska legislature gets underway, two fish bills held over from last year are poised to pass early in the session.

One, introduced by Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, would expand loan terms by the Division of Investments revolving loan fund to let fishermen borrow money to make upgrades for more fuel efficient engines.

Another bill, introduced by Rep. John Harris of Valdez, would increase the amount that an injured fisherman could get for medical payments from $2,500 to $10,000 from the Fishermen's Fund, the first increase in 40 years. The Fishermen's Fund was created before statehood, and is totally self supporting from a portion of the fees paid for crew licenses. The Fund is designed to help fishermen who are not covered by workman's compensation other benefits for wage earners.

Other holdover fish bills might not fare so well, cautioned Bob Tkacz of Juneau, who has been covering legislative fishery issues for 15 years.

A few months ago Rep. Bill Stoltze of Chugiak, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, warned that he would not move any commercial fishing bills this year.

"That kind of throws a monkey wrench into things when one of the top committee co-chairs says he's not going to move any of your bills out of his committee," Tkacz said in a phone interview.

One measure would ban pollution mixing zones in fresh water spawning and nesting areas. Another holdover bill imposes new data and protection requirements before permitting any large scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed.

Tkacz predicts any bills to strengthen environmental regulations might not see the light of day.

"Since he's been in office, I don't think there has been a single environmental proposal that Gov. Sean Parnell hasn't opposed," Tkacz said. "Polar bears, beluga whales or anything else that has to do with a pro-enviromental stance Parnell has come out against, or he has directed the Dept. of Law to oppose. So I can't see that those bills are going to have a whole lot of hope this year."

Two fish bills pre-filed before the legislative session take aim at First Alaskans' subsistence priority. One introduced by Rep. Stolze would give personal use fishing the top priority in a time of fish shortages.

"Under current law, subsistence harvesters have top priority, then commercial, then personal use, then sport. Stoltze wants to kick personal use up to the top of the scale," explained Tkacz.

Another bill pre-filed by Senator Albert Kookesh of Angoon aims to reinstate federal takeover of salmon management in some regions, where allegedly "the state has not managed properly for sustainable yield."

Several bills related to the Board of Fisheries also remain in the legislative hopper, notably, conflict of interest measures and holding meetings in regions affected by Board decisions.

"The odds they will move in an election year are pretty tough," Tkacz said.

There are about a dozen bills in the House Fisheries Committee that if passed, will go to the House Resources Committee. But commercial fishing bills have a way of stalling there for the duration of the legislative session.

"What we've got are a couple of co-chairs in House Resources - Craig Johnson of Anchorage and Mark Neuman of Wasilla - who have demonstrated a pretty strong affinity for the sport fishing side of things, and they don't seem very interested in moving any commercial bills out of there," Tkacz said.

Keep on top of all fish bills with Tkacz's weekly Laws for the Sea. Get more info at .

IFQ survey

Lots of studies have been done on Alaska's Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program for halibut and sablefish since it was put in place 15 years ago. But none has focused specifically on the impacts of IFQs on crews and communities.

This week 1,200 IFQ holders will get a survey in their mailboxes aimed at gathering that kind of information.

"This is something that people really don't know, but it's extremely important," said Glenn Haight, a fisheries business specialist with Alaska Sea Grant's Marine Advisory Program.

"We're going to be looking at information based on vessel size and class of IFQ, where the IFQ holders are from, where they're getting their crew, what they are spending on crews, how much they are spending in communities, and what communities they work in," Haight explained.

The IFQ survey is especially timely since more fisheries are already privatized, or in the pipeline.

"This is just touching one segment of the IFQ fishery, but so far there has been very little information on community and crew impacts for all of these 'rationalized' fisheries," Haight said.

He added that the survey will yield the kinds of information that was needed before the halibut/sablefish IFQ program was launched in 1995.

"A lot of things have changed since then. And a lot of mayors in small towns will tell you things have changed, but they can't tell you how much," Haight said. "So it's my hope that as we move forward and continue to rationalize our fisheries, and we do it across the country, fishery managers will ask these kinds of questions before they push for rationalization. So that 15 years down the road they can survey it again and measure what actually happens to these small fishing communities over time."

Any halibut or black cod IFQ holders can respond to the survey even if they don't receive it by mail. Find a link at .

Seafood indicators

How well the economy rebounds will be the biggest factor this year in the fishing business. Early on, it looks like supplies of many seafood favorites will be a bit tighter. Some trends to watch:

Forecasts for Alaska salmon are still trickling in, but insiders say this year's total catch is likely to be lower than last season. A bright spot is Bristol Bay which could see a sockeye harvest of nearly 32 million fish, slightly above last year. Huge salmon catches from Russian could throw a kink in the market, as they did last year with pinks, said analyst Ken Talley.

Pacific coast salmon fisheries are expected to be bleak again this year. Talley said supplies of farmed salmon from Chile will be tight for the first half of the year, but should pick up after that and be back to normal in 2011. Chile's shipments of fresh farmed salmon fillets to the U.S. have dropped nearly 43% due to disease problems.

In the Bering Sea, the catch for all fish species is pegged at just over 2 million metric tons, just slightly below last year. Conversely, in the Gulf of Alaska, total catches should be up 9% --- pollock catches are expected to increase by 70%; and 43% for cod. The halibut catch limit is likely to fall by 10% for the second year in a row; and Gulf sablefish is down 7%.

For Bering Sea snow crab, Talley said the market is in the doldrums, but Japanese buyers appear ready to buy. Advance prices for snow crab range from $1.10-$1.14 a pound, down from $1.40 last year. On a bright note, there is likely to be less snow crab this year from the world's largest producer - Canada.

Looking ahead to this fall for red king crab, the market is still being complicated by rampant poaching by Russian fleets. Talley said Russia has reportedly cut its Far East king crab quota again in an attempt to control the poaching problem.


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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