SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Less Pacific halibut for seafood buyers this year


February 08, 2010

There will be a bit less Pacific halibut for seafood buyers this year, but the bite isn't as bad as the industry expected. The coast wide catch limit of 50.67 million pounds is nearly two million more than anticipated, although it is still a 6.4% decrease from 2009. The International Pacific Halibut Commission - which oversees fisheries on the west coast, British Columbia and Alaska - set the catch limits at its annual meeting last week in Seattle.

Alaska always gets the lion's share of the halibut - the 2010 Alaska catch is 42.36 million pounds, a drop of 3.3 million from last year. The start date of the fishery is Saturday, March 6th - 15 days earlier than the 2009 season. That will get fresh, first of the season halibut to market just in time for Lent - the seafood industry's biggest sales season. Market watchers predict prices to fishermen will start out very high. That, of course, remains to be seen.

The IPHC also took up proposals to change regulations at its annual meeting. A lot of time was spent on halibut sport fish issues, according to the meeting report.

A proposal to create harvest tags for all recreational halibut fisheries in Alaska drew support, saying it would improve data collection. The Commission took no action on a proposal to change Alaska sport fish filleting requirements. It will, however, direct a working group to bring the issue back to the table next year. Commissioners said they want to see "more effective management" of the state's sport charter fishery. They said they will be closely monitoring the progress of proposed catch sharing plans.

The IPHC also was asked to reconvene a Halibut Bycatch Work Group that last met almost 20 years ago. The group will examine how bycatch of halibut in other fisheries can best be accounted for in stock assessments and fisheries management. Alaska's halibut fishery runs from March 6 through mid-November.

Hats Off

Alaska Head Start is taking its hat off to Peter Pan Seafoods and Bristol Bay fishermen this week at a special ceremony on Wednesday in Juneau. The seafood company will be recognized as the top Corporate Sponsor by the state Head Start Association for the role it has played in providing local salmon to children and elders throughout Southwest Alaska.

"Head Start is not an easy program to run and this has been such a success. This annual award is one way we can really stand up and recognize the folks who go way above and beyond in Alaska for Head Start," said regional director Anne Shade, who nominated Peter Pan for the honor.

The 'salmon to schools' program was spearheaded four years ago in Dillingham by school lunch director Patty Luckhurst, now retired after 21 years with the district.

"It drove me crazy that the best fish in the world was swimming by and yet none of it was available to our school kids," Luckhurst said.

She approached Peter Pan manager Tom Whinihan who put out a call to fishermen to donate part of their sockeye salmon catch to the kids. The company earmarked tenders in three regions for the donations, which Peter Pan processed and packaged for free.

"Tom Whinihan is a gem. He is really dedicated to this community," Luckhurst added.
So far about 50,000 pounds has been donated to the program, which has expanded from Dillingham schools to nine outlying village schools.

"Those schools also prepare meals for the elders in their villages, and they each have Head Start programs. So we're getting salmon meals to well over 1,000 kids and elders at least once a week," Luckhurst said. Serving fish that is caught and processed locally saves the Dillingham school district roughly $12,000 in freight and other costs each year, she added.

"The response has been so great," said Jeanne Timmerman, Head Start wellness manager. "It makes so much sense that you can hardly believe it happens in this day and age," she added with a laugh.

Peter Pan's Tom Whinihan agrees.

"Gosh, this salmon is part of their culture, yet there was so much farmed fish like Trout Treasures being brought in. This is such a team effort and it's so easy to do once you get it going. The end result is all the little people and elders benefit from it. I do feel very grateful for it," Whinihan said.

Whinihan is always quick to credit the local fishermen.

"They are the ones doing the hard work and being so generous with their donations. We help facilitate it and ours is the easy part." he said.

Ultimately, the hope is that similar partnerships will occur in other regions.

"We hope our fish message gets out to all the state. We would love to see it happen in other Alaska communities," Anne Shade said.

"If we can do this with a local processor here, there is no reason other schools and communities that have fish processors can't do the same thing," Patty Luckhurst emphasized.

"It would be such a good thing if they all got together and made it happen," Whinihan said. "It's so easy and it is not a lot of effort on anyone's part once you get it going. So much of it is just good communication before hand, and then it all falls into place."

Fish bits

Alaska smoked salmon chowder by Ivar's Seafood won the People's Choice Award at the Symphony of Seafood new products contest last week in Seattle. In all, 14 new Alaska products were judged by an expert panel in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. All winners will be kept secret and announced at a big bash Feb. 19 at the Den'aina Center in Anchorage. All winners get a trip to the International Boston Seafood show in March.

Industry reports say salmon is likely to be in short supply this year, due in great part to huge shortfalls from fish farmers in Chile. Chile is the biggest exporter of farmed salmon to the U.S., but disease outbreaks for the past year have cut shipments by more than 40%. Some insiders predict demand for salmon could take a hit overall this year due to higher prices.

Fishermen-owned Silver Bay Seafoods has partnered with Leader Creek Fisheries in Bristol Bay to sell herring and salmon products. Silver Bay has three plants in Sitka, Craig and Valdez.

Alaska's Pollock Conservation Cooperative is among the top 10 finalists for an international Seafood Champion award by the Seafood Choices Alliance. The pollock co-op has increased the amount of food produced per pound of pollock by 40% and has donated $10 million to University of Alaska research since 1999.



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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