SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Icing on fish pays off


February 16, 2010

Salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay are putting the icing on their fish and it is starting to pay off.

Deliveries of chilled salmon to processors by the drift fleet jumped to 60 million pounds last summer, nearly double from 2008. The result of the quality boost means more of the salmon is making the grade for pricier fillets and fresh/frozen products, instead of the lower value canning lines. And that means better paychecks for more than 1,300 Bay fishermen.

Those are some of the results in the 2009 Bristol Bay Processors Survey by Northern Economics, compiles responses from eleven major processors about their chilled fish purchases, and their perceptions of how the Bristol Bay fishery is changing. The report is paid for by the fishermen-funded Regional Seafood Development Association, whose #1 goal is to improve fish quality in the Bay.

"An ice bonus of 10 cents per pound is the rule of thumb, so that increased chilling conservatively resulted in an additional $2.7 million to $3 million in permit holders' pockets this year," said economist Jonathan King, lead author of the report.

The salmon are kept cold with slush ice or refrigerated sea water (RSW) systems onboard the fishing boats until they are delivered to a dedicated tender or shoreside processing plant. For the past two years the RSDA has partnered and shared costs with the fish processors to deploy ice making platforms to fishermen throughout the Bay. The amount of ice available last year increased from 74 tons per day to 89 tons - an increase of 28,000 pounds per day.

"Ocean Beauty feels strongly that increasing the amount of ice available on the grounds, and encouraging more fishermen to ice their fish should be the #1 priority in Bristol Bay. Icing on the grounds has a bigger impact on product quality than any other action we can take in Bristol Bay," said Tom Sunderland, director of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. "We have been willing to pay more for iced fish, and we will continue to do so. So far the market has rewarded us with higher prices for higher quality fish, and there is every reason to believe that will continue."

The report shows that fresh/frozen fish production increased to more than 50% of all product harvested, an increase from 46.4% in 2008. Filleted product increased from 8.2% to 9.6%; meanwhile, canned salmon production dropped four percent.

Despite the big push to 'chill, baby, chill,' however, 61% of the fishing boats in Bristol Bay are still "dry." Not for long, predicts Bob Waldrop, BBRSDA director.

"That is the half-empty perspective. We are focusing on how fast the fishery is making the change from traditional habits to new techniques, that until recently had been thought impossible to apply in the Bay," Waldrop said. "Few fisheries are changing as fast as Bristol Bay. It is very encouraging."

The 2009 dockside value of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery was $127 million, compared to $116 million in 2008. Find 2009 Bristol Bay Processors Survey at . (Mike Mason, KDLG/Dillingham contributed.)

Cash for catch shares

Saying it wants to "transform" the way fisheries are managed, federal managers have earmarked $54 million for national catch programs as part of the NOAA agency's $992.4 million dollar budget for the next fiscal year.

In its budget report, NOAA Fisheries claims it will rely "where appropriate, on systems of catch shares or individual fishing privilege programs, which through competitive market forces allow much more flexibility in business arrangements and a better track record for conservation than do traditional fishery control systems." The agency is proposing an additional $36.6 million to begin catch share programs for New England and West Coast groundfish, some Gulf of Mexico fisheries, and to expand catch shares throughout the United States. In Alaska, halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab fisheries operate using catch share systems.

At the same time, the feds and the state of Maine are setting up a commercial fishing permit bank to support small-scale fishermen. The state-run bank will buy and hold fishing permits, which entitle owners to a certain number of fishing days or pounds of fish. It will then divides up the fishing rights and lease them to fishermen. The Portland Press Herald reported NOAA Fisheries is providing $1 million to jump start the permit bank and plans to ask Congress for more. The government permit bank is intended to serve as a pilot program that could be copied in other parts of the country.

Lovers choose lobsters

A national survey by Harris Interactive says lobster is the most popular choice for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. The survey also revealed that more than two in five Americans (42 percent) consider lobster to be the most romantic food. Next in line was steak (24 percent).

"Lobster is the perfect dish for a romantic, special occasion," said chef Keith Keogh of Red Lobster, the world's largest casual dining seafood company. 'It is an exotic delicacy that results in an intimate moment with a loved one, because lobster is hand-held and shareable. Shellfish is a catalyst for connection like no other food."


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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