SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Reporting of Alaska's Seafood Harvesting Labor Data Could Be Improved
By Laine Welch


February 25, 2007
Sunday AM

Alaska's seafood industry provides more jobs than oil and gas, mining, agriculture and forestry combined. However, a lack of harvesting labor data means there is no way to realistically estimate the number of crew members who work in any given community or census area.

That hampers efforts by fisheries-dependent communities to influence public policy-making, build infrastructure and grow local economies, concludes a new report by Anchorage-based Northern Economics, Inc. Titled "Improving Seafood Harvesting Labor Data," the report outlines ways in which collection and reporting of Alaska's seafood harvesting labor data could be improved.

jpg Rockfish

Git 'er Down

He was not a Smart Gear contest winner, but that didn't stop Alaskan Ace Callaway from refining and patenting a gear to protect fragile rockfish. Callaway lives in Fairbanks and operates a sports charter boat each summer out of Valdez.
Read Git'er Down after this story...

"State and federal policy makers are often in the position of having to make decisions that will impact crew members and communities without having any historical information about the seafood harvesters. In fact, in most cases policy-makers generally know more about the average fish than they do about the average fisherman," said Wanetta Ayers, director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference (SWAMC), which commissioned the report.

Fishing crew are considered contract workers, not employees, so no wage and salary reporting is required by the state Dept. of Labor, explained report author Marcus Hartley. "The number of crew licenses is collected each year by communities, but those are general to all commercial fisheries," Hartley said.

A 2005 report by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game summarizes the dilemma by stating: "Using existing data, it is not possible to know if the crewmember fished at all, where they fished, how much they fished, how many crew fished from a vessel, or how much they earned."

The lack of harvesting data also results in an inability of individuals and communities to access federal programs and grant funds that are readily available to others.

"Without good data about the number of crewmembers and the amounts they are earning, communities really don't have any basis for accurately estimating the effects of fishing," Hartley said, adding that the problem applies to commercial fisheries throughout the U.S.

U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety officers have long been concerned that anyone can get a crew license, walk the docks, and hop aboard a boat with no real record of who they are or where they're going. That should also cause worry for immigration and security agencies, Hartley said.

Federal and state agencies are working hard to find ways to improve the system, but right now there is no regulatory mandate to do so.

"Without that, agencies are probably reluctant to spend the extra money to go after the information because money is short, and there are so many things they already have to do to manage the fisheries," said Hartley.

"This is an issue for all fisheries-dependent communities. It's up to all stakeholders to advocate for changes and generate the support needed to make those changes a reality," said Ayers.

Hartley will present the report at the ComFish trade show next month in Kodiak. Find the full report at .

Cash for gear ideas

The international Smart Gear competition is again calling for entries that reduce bycatch - the accidental take of marine mammals, sea birds or small fish by fishing gear. The contest was created three years ago by the World Wildlife Fund, which this year is offering $30,000 in cash to the winning entry and two $10,000 runners-up awards.

The entries are judged on innovation, practicality, and cost effectiveness to implement or produce the gear, said WWF spokesman Mike Osmond.

"The entry must also maintain the target catch. You don't want to have something that reduces bycatch but at the same affects the target species. Otherwise, there is very little chance of getting it adopted," Osmond said.

Along with cash, all winners receive help in further testing and refining their gear. Last year's winner was a New Jersey inventor who designed gear that uses a shark's ability to detect magnetic fields through its snout. He placed strong magnets just above baited hooks on longlines and found that it repelled sharks while not reducing catches of tuna and swordfish. Osmond said federal fishery managers conducted very successful trials on the gear last summer and it will soon be adopted in U.S. and world waters.

The 2006contest attracted 83 entries from 26 countries, including four from Alaska. Find entry forms at . Deadline to enter is July 31st.

Git 'er Down

He was not a Smart Gear contest winner, but that didn't stop Alaskan Ace Callaway from refining and patenting a gear to protect fragile rockfish. Callaway lives in Fairbanks and operates a sports charter boat each summer out of Valdez.

"When you break rockfish out of deep water they don't have the ability to equalize the pressure, and their bladder expands and pushes their eyes out the sockets and the stomach out of their mouths. It's a horrible sight. They basically suffer the same thing a diver does that comes up too fast ­ what we normally call the bends," Callaway said.

There are more than 30 kinds of rockfish and they're some of the most fascinating fish in the world. Rockfish can live more than 200 years, they have live babies, and they range less than a quarter mile from where they are born.

Callaway's simple gear uses a pair of mechanical jaws that hooks onto the fish's lip, quickly re-submerges it to the proper depth and releases it unharmed. It is modeled after studies by the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife that showed rockfish returned to the deep have almost 100 percent survival rates. Callaway agrees that long term tagging studies should be done, but meanwhile, he has a patent pending for his rockfish gear ­ and the catchy name describes exactly what it does.

"It's called Git 'er Down'," he said with a laugh. That, of course, is a take off on 'get 'er done,' the line made famous by the popular comedian, Larry the Cable Guy.

Callaway said he has had offers by big companies to produce the rockfish gear elsewhere.

But the inventor, who owns and runs a disabled veterans machine shop in Fairbanks, said the Git 'er Down gear will be made "by him and his guys right here in Alaska."

Contact Ace at


Kodiak is gearing up for ComFish, Alaska's largest and longest running (28 years) fisheries trade show, and the only one held in a major fishing port.

Among the featured fishery forums will be updates on the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation, king crab mariculture, clues to the collapse of Kodiak's king crab stocks, impacts of climate change on fisheries and coastal communities, PSP field test kits for shellfish, and offshore oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay and the southeastern Bering Sea.

"Local boy" Denby Lloyd, AK Dept. of Fish and Game Commissioner and Gov. Palin's legislative director John Bitney will be on hand to discuss all things fishery related. Northern Dynasty's Pebble Mine project will also be featured, along with the opposing stance presented by presentation by the Renewable Resources Coalition and Trout Unlimited.

ComFish is scheduled for March 15-17 at the Kodiak High School. Get more information at or by calling the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce at 907-486-5557.



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